Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God starts out promisingly. The first third of the book is really quite interesting. I suppose I kept reading in the hopes that this book would live up to its beginning. Hoffman introduces us to his protagonist (who is surprisingly antagonistic) in a very harsh monastery that is training young boys into a fanatical army. This introduction is the most original part of the book. The monks–Redeemers, they call themselves–are in a centuries long war with people they only refer to as Antagonists or heretics. Our protagonist, Cale, escapes one night with his friends after murdering one of the Redeemers in the middle of an unexplained and macabre vivisection.
After that escape, however, the novel starts to wander. Moreover, it also starts to incorporate names that jar you right out of the narrative if you know anything about European history and geography. I read a comment on the Amazon page for this book, and one of those commenters had it exactly right. It’s like Hoffman put a textbook in a blender and used that to name things in his book. There are (and I am not making this up): Norwegians and Spanish; cities and places named Memphis, York, and Stamford Bridge; and characters with titles like Gauleiter and gangs named after the Lollards. Every time the novel seemed to settle down, one of these names would get dropped in like a girder on train tracks. Those names, I’ll admit, were part of the reason I kept reading. They were so startling, that I thought there must be a reason Hoffman was using them. As far as the first book in this series goes, there is none.
Cale and his comrades pretty much land on their feet in Memphis after their capture. Cale manages to worm his way into a position of power after saving a bigwig’s daughter from the Redeemers. There isn’t much of an overarching plot or motive to connect the events of the second two thirds of the book. I kept waiting for one, but all I got were hints. It’s clear that more will be revealed in later books. But given the fact that Hoffman can’t even be bothered to come up with original names of things, I’m not sure I will bother.
So, if nothing else, I hope this review keeps you from wasting your time.