Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Title: The Left Hand of God
Author: Paul Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Publishing Date: 7 Jan 2010
Hardback: 448 pages


The Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a tasteless, pleasureless and hopeless place where boys are reared according to vicious and fundamentalist religious rules. Thomas Cale has survived in this environment until now by trusting no one but himself, by keeping away from the others... and by being special. His life takes an unexpected turn when he decides to follow two other boys who are his closest things to friends.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, But...

I have mixed feelings about this cover art. On the positive side, I really like the color scheme and the aquarelle-looking composition. The character on the cover reminds me of Turkish Whirling Dervishes and his stance is notable, especially his left hand and his head. However, as a whole, it fails to impress me because it follows an overused idea - a cliché if you will.


The Left Hand of God was one of the most anticipated books of this year. There has been so much talk and publicity around it that it was hard not to have high expectations. Furthermore, religious notions always arouse my curiosity and as this book's promise was based on a heavily fundamentalist Redeemers concept I was expecting a good read. However, the book falls very short of all expectations.

On the positive side, Hoffman shows that he can tell his story in a captivating way, even though the reader doesn't experience these precious moments often enough in The Left Hand of God. I particularly liked the way Hoffman uses flashbacks with full dialogs, almost as if they were part of a movie. They add real color to the story. He also shows excellent imagination around the religious concepts that render the Redemeers as fundamentalist fanatics.

Unfortunately, all in all, the negative side seemed larger. The biggest disappointment for me was the setting. It felt like the story took place during the Middle Age somewhere in Europe. References to Saint Stephen of Hungary, Jesus of Nazareth, Jews of the Ghetto, Ark of the Covenant gave it a touch of historical fantasy however some other details totally disoriented me: "Dollar" as the currency was an odd choice. Mentioning "to be shipped to Middle East's leper colony" was another odd one as during the Middle Age, Middle East was a more civilized and clean place than Europe. The strangest of all was when IdrisPukke and Cale was sitting on a veranda, IdrisPukke "opened another beer" and handed out to Cale. There was no mention of an aluminium can, though.

Throughout the book, the author tells how dangerous Cale is but to the reader, it doesn't really feel that way. The author also tries to paint the picture of a mysterious character in Cale however most of the times it comes across very awkward and artificial. At times, the author's 3rd person point of view is too revealing, leaving less to be discovered. Or something that could be discovered indirectly was told bluntly. Doesn't the author trust the wit of his readers?

Sometimes, the language of the book seemed disappointingly juvenile and the introduction of new characters was done somehow clumsily. The most notable character was IdrisPukke, who was also very irritating in some places.

Culinary sections were very boring and really lacked imagination. Especially the hunting cabin experience seemed very implausible with all sorts of food cooked by IdrisPukke. Another odd detail was about fried potato strips because historically potato was brought to Europe during the late 16th century.

All in all, The Left Hand of God is a book of contradictions and it is a book that I failed to like. Its main idea sounds great but an unstable setting, not-so-well-developed characters and an occasionally juvenile narration spoil the story. Sometimes, Hoffman shows us how to do good story-telling however they don't happen often enough to make The Left Hand of God a truly enjoyable book.

Rating: 5/10


In the book, one of the redeemers says "Burn them and let God sort them out!". This reminded me of Arnaud Amalric, a Cistercian monk. When he was asked by the Crusaders what to do with the citizens of Béziers who were a mixture of Catholics and Cathars, he spilled out one of the most horrific quotes of history: "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)", which is the origin of the modern phrase "Kill them all and let God sort them out."


"We are like water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered up again" - Redeemers' Book of Proverbs

"Every philosopher can stand the toothache, except for the one who has it" - IdrisPukke

"To desire love is to desire to be chained to a lunatic" - IdrisPukke

"Even the bleakest, cruellest soul can have its tender spots. Even the harshest desert has its pools, its shady trees and gentle streams."

"If history teaches us one thing, My Lord, it's that if you're prepared to sacrifice your own life you can kill anyone" - IdrisPukke

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