Customer Reviews for

The Left Hand of God

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

An Engaging World, Despite Its Executional Flaws

It is hard to fully categorize this novel. Medieval fantasy, certainly. (That the setting is a vague number of centuries, even millennia in the future, does not disallow this classification.) A coming of age story, perhaps. (The protagonist is oddly static, despite expe...
It is hard to fully categorize this novel. Medieval fantasy, certainly. (That the setting is a vague number of centuries, even millennia in the future, does not disallow this classification.) A coming of age story, perhaps. (The protagonist is oddly static, despite experiencing within the novel's pages one of the most formative of adolescent experiences: first love.) Future dystopian, yes, though without any explanation as to the nature of humanity's technological devolution. An antihero tale, most definitely this of all others. That said, if there is any typecasting in this story, it is not in its genre(s) and related plot. It would be in its characters.<br><br>

As this novel is widely touted as the beginning of a trilogy, it suffers from that. The protagonist Thomas Cale, while interesting, is stoic in the extreme. Indeed, any changes to his demeanor occur largely in the exposition from other characters' points of view. Perhaps Cale becomes more self-aware to his true, more heroic nature during the story, but any evidence comes primarily through narrative from other characters' points of view. Overall, it makes Cale look altogether a "pawn" instead of a "knight," even in any small part. The love interest, Arbella, is of course the complete opposite of Cale. She is an aristocrat and exceptionally beautiful, and of course the story of their love is told almost entirely from the point of view of their class distinctions.<br><br>

The world of Hoffman's story is a direct borrowing of European history, in which every event is expanded infinitely. Memphis is politically Rome. Its leader is the Doge (cf. Renaissance Venice), the patriarch of a large aristocracy who embrace the cult of beauty more than the 17th century French court and the cult of chivalry to an extent that makes Bushido look mild. Of course, this aristocracy does so quite oddly. The Sanctuary is the headquarters of a religious group that is an extremely thinly veiled analog to Roman Catholicism, complete with its own Pontiff. Combine the most extreme asceticism with the most regimented of the Crusade-era militaristic orders, and you have the Sanctuary. They worship the "Hanged Redeemer," the son of the One True God and of the one pure woman ever to exist. They have a litany of saints and martyrs and feast days for each. The parallels go on yet further. Their enemies are the Antagonists (=Protestants). Their battle is a recapitulation of World War I in France, only where the trench warfare extends for far longer.<br><br>

The ending is problematic, too. Yes, this is the first part of a trilogy, but ending the story with such a cliffhanger makes the ending of the first Spiderman movie a less obvious set-up for a sequel. It was a trite cliffhanger reveal that does, at least, explain the title.<br><br>

Such obvious borrowings could be excused if it were not for Hoffman's writing style. Hoffman almost randomly introduces asides breaking the narrative "fourth wall" (to steal a metaphor from theatre/cinema). Each aside says the same thing in different wording, "Give the person(s) a break. You'd do the same in his/her/their position." Thus, what would otherwise be an adult book with appeal and accessibility to teenagers certainly gains the narrative tone of a story for pre-teen children or younger. Hoffman's book

posted by CSHallo on June 18, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Disturbingly Interesting

This book starts off in an extremely dark world that young adult readers may find startlingly unique or maybe even disturbing. This is not a breezy, magical world as in many such tales, but it's a world of grim realities, pain, and hardship. Literally. It feels very med...
This book starts off in an extremely dark world that young adult readers may find startlingly unique or maybe even disturbing. This is not a breezy, magical world as in many such tales, but it's a world of grim realities, pain, and hardship. Literally. It feels very medieval with historical undertones, given that the methods of punishment seem to be congruent with those used in that time period.


The main character, Cale, has traits much like the typical young adult male hero - extremely tough but inwardly a bit sensitive (at least eventually). As he learns to interact with the world outside the "Sanctuary" which is the only home he has ever known, he begins to learn to love and the dual parts of his nature - violence and a growing sense of love - are at war with each other. To do what he has been forced into, he must be tough and brutal, but his love for Arbell contrasts with this and makes him strangely vulnerable at times.


I enjoyed this book, but I felt that character development (my favorite part of any story) took a back seat to the actual plot of the novel. I would have enjoyed it more had it lingered on some interesting key points (Cale's background story, his tormented life at the Sanctuary, the relationship with Arbell, Cale's personal feelings, etc) a bit more to make the strong stronger.


However, the lack of personal details in Cale's story actually, I believe, would make it of stronger appeal to younger male readers. As an adult woman, I want to take pity on Cale and see him in light of relationships and learn more about him rather than see him fight in battles and complete heroic deeds. A more male audience that would rather see these things, so they would probably enjoy the book quite well.


One issue that stood out to me was that of redemption. The horrible place Cale is raised is called the Sanctuary and populated by Redeemers, but no type of true redemption or sanctuary is offered. While not making any direct claims or taking a direct stance, the book provides ample thematic elements for discussion of religion, faith, what true redemption means, etc.


All in all, this book made me feel uneasy, which is something that rarely happens to me. I would probably recommend it to middle-school aged males with a few reservations due to the violence and sensitive themes. However, in middle school, boys seem to be all about those things and would definitely enjoy it.


This is a review of the ARC copy provided to me by Goodreads.com.

posted by agapegrace on July 13, 2010

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