THE LEFT HAND OF GOD by Paul Hoffman

THE LEFT HAND OF GOD by Paul Hoffman is a YA fantasy novel, the first in a trilogy (No information is currently available on the rest of the books.) 

Thomas Cale came to live with the monks in the Sanctuary when he was five years of age.  Like all the other boys there, he is brutally trained for the Monks Holy war.  One monk, Lord Redeemer Bosco, singles Cale out as the example of punishment for the slightest infraction and beats him harshly.  These beatings and their severe training make Cale a skilled killer.  But one day, Cale opens a door and witnesses an act so heinous it forces him to make a decision that will change the rest of his life.

From the Sanctuary to Memphis, a city of beauty and sin, Thomas and his two young friends learn a new life; starting from the city jail and finding their way into the King of Memphis’ favor. In the palace, he falls in love with the princess, becomes an advisory to the head of the guard and discovers he is the center to plot of the underbelly of Memphis’s lord.  Until eventually, he must help the King battle the Redeemers that held him captive for so long.

YA?  The main character, Thomas Cale, is fourteen.  He discovers who he really is, he falls in love, there is light youthful humor but he finds himself living a very adult life, sort of.  I’m not sure the average teen would find this interesting because of the dark subject matter of religion, death and war.  There are swear words, and sex is mentioned though not described.  I would recommend it to an older person who can handle some heavy subject matter. 

Fantasy?  This does not have your heavy alternate worlds with magic and LORD OF THE RINGS feel.  The publishing company compared it to HARRY POTTER, which I don’t agree.  To me it seems more like a post-apocolyptic world pre the rebirth of technology.

I’d like to tell you this took place in X country during X time period, but I can’t.  The writer uses familiar names of places that make you feel this story was from a time forgotten which I feel is a clever way of world building.  The familiar names trick my mind into believing this place is real, so when new places and terms are used, I easily accept them.  As far as when, it could be the past or a future reverted to pre-technology or an alternate reality.  To me, it reads like a historical fiction with sword battles but speaks of something more that I really can’t put my finger on it. 

There is a diverse use of cultures and contrasts.  For instance, the use of Monks, who are thought to be gentle and peaceful but here they are violent and demented.  The soldiers in charge of keeping the peace in Memphis sound like Calvary men from the Civil War south.  Even one charming scoundrel, IdrisPukke, could be Rhett Butler incarnate.  But the King of Memphis has an army of warriors too, called the Materazzi (which I read somewhere are Italian).  In the book, they are described as having martial art talents for war, so I think of an Asian culture but they are all six foot tall blond men (superior blond race…Nazi?).  Even the princess is blond.  So again, oddities that contrast each other but really, they never deter me from loving the story.

In the first few chapters, I really enjoyed learning the type of character Thomas Cale was: untrusting of others but heroic, charming but violent, broken but tough.  He is a lot of contrasts all wrapped in one.   But, I became frustrated at the use of so many new terms and people and information thrown at me that I wasn’t sure who was saying what.   And sometimes the battle scenes at the end dragged but their detail gave me a great visual image.
The book is written in past tense multiple POVs but mostly from Thomas Cale.  These POVs were switched from paragraph to paragraph then took on whole chapters.  Paul Hoffman did a very good job making clear, after the beginning, of who the different POV’s were.

Romance? Yes, but could use a lot more.  There are lots of visually interesting characters that play very pivotal roles to the final battle.  The world Hoffman builds feels historically realistic.  The multiple subplots going on, which I usually find annoying, worked well here because they are all wrapped around the end of the book.   And at the end, there were some huge questions left unanswered and some actions from a few characters that I didn’t think were realistic but overall, I loved it.  The story still haunts my thoughts days later, I could not stop turning the pages and I cannot wait for the sequel to be announced. 

The review for this book was very difficult for me to write because of all the contrasting settings, characters, and plots.  I find there is so much more I want to explain and discuss but I don’t want to overwhelm you.  So if you are still not sure you want to read it, here are a few links that might help you out.  The book’s website and a couple of blog reviews that speak WAY more eloquently than I do.

Fantasy Book Critic  (These guys nailed it.)