Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Left Hand of God
by Paul Hoffman
Release Date: June 15, 2010
2010 Penguin Group
Hardcover Edition; 376 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-95131-5
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Review copy from Penguin Canada

4 / 5 Stars

In the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, torture and death await the unsuccessful or disobedient.  Raised by the Redeemers from early childhood like hundreds of other young captives, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training.  He doesn't know that another world exists outside the fortress walls or even that secrets he can't imagine lurk behind the Sanctuary's many forbidden doorways.  He doesn't know that his mast Lord Bosco and the Sanctuary's Redeemers have been preparing for a holy war for centuries - a holy war that is now imminent.  And Cale doesn't know that he's been noticed and quietly cultivated.

And then, Cale decides to open a door.

It's a door that leads to one of the Redeemers' darkest secrets and a choice that is really no choice at all: certain death or daring escape.  Adrift in the wider world for the first time in his young life, Cale soon find himself in Memphis, the capital of culture - and the den of Sin.  It's there that Cale discovers his prodigious gift: violence.  And he discovers that, after years of abuse at the hands of the Redeemers, his embittered heart is still capable of loving - and breaking.

My Thoughts
Although I found the story itself to be somewhat predictable, I do have to admit that I was totally drawn into the novel right from the beginning.  The tales of abuse and torture, the descriptions of the Sanctuary, and the horrors of some of the events that were going on in a place that was supposed to be religious and 'safe', were heartbreaking and sickening.   The boys are brought to the Sanctuary very young, are told they are sinners their entire young lives, and are trained in such a militaristic and strict fashion, that it becomes a boy-against-boy world.  The concept of obeying 'no matter what', where creativity and original thinking are considered to be non-existent can be detrimental when training soldiers.  (And yet the Redeemers won a brilliant battle due to creative thinking, original and creative feats of engineering, and master planning, so how did that happen to an army that was trained to not think and to be obedient?)

When Cale discovers some even more horrible things going on than even he could even imagine, he had to escape.  His escape plan was interesting to say the least, and I have to say I admired the boys, as several other people ended up mired in Cale's mess, for their creativity and daring during their escape.  I truly enjoyed the character of Riba (one of the escapees), as she really knew how to put the boys in their place and really put some perspective on their lives, made them realize that things were not always so bad or always what they seemed.  I really hope she plays more of a role in the following novels as I'd love to see her character developed and grown into something bigger and better.

The three boys themselves, for the most part, usually behave the way most teenage boys would behave, despite their horrific background at the Sanctuary.  Once away from the torture and abuse, they played, laughed, and teased each other the way most boys would, as they learned to navigate a social world with which they were completely unfamiliar.  I really enjoyed how the novel took more of a lighter turn in the middle as the four teenagers try to cope with living in a new environment and dealing with things that were totally unfamiliar.  Don't get me wrong though, as there were still plenty of fights and arguments to go around if you enjoy that kind of thing, and Cale's emerging talents and gifts became more obvious during this section too.

As for Cale himself, I really don't know what to think of him.  I really like him as a character, but he is so different from the usual hero-type character in many novels I have read.  There is a dark depth to him that is made known throughout the book, a depth that allows him to become a fighting maching, and to plan brilliant battle strategies.  It will be interesting to see how he develops as a character in future novels.

While there are plenty of danger, excitement, twists and turns, suspense, thrills in this novel, one of the things that really bothered me was the use of names and terms.  I thought I had the religious theme all figured out with the Hanged Redeemer, until suddenly they started talking about Jesus Christ in the middle of the novel.  I can't quite figure out how all the religious themes work in the plot, and while I don't mind alternative religions or other religions as long as it's explained as the novel goes along, it usually helps to have some basis to help the reader figure out how it all goes together.  But here I find it confusing and all over the place.  I also find the mish-mash of mythologies and legends and stories to be somewhat confusing, even those with which I'm familiar as I feel like Mr. Hoffman just mixed them all together and put them in any order he chose. So while things sounds familiar, it's like you're in a nightmare as you realize they're not familiar at all, only the names are familiar.  Very confusing stuff!!!

The novel was definitely riveting and had a satisfying confusion, one that I didn't really see coming. Although the novel didn't quite mesh the way it was meant to, I still enjoyed the twists and turns in the narrative, and the quirky characters, and I am looking forward to reading the next book in this planned trilogy. Hopefully some of the questions that were left unanswered in this novel will be answered as the story unfolds.