Wunderkind-Pr was kind enough to give me the second book of the Left Hand of God series, 'The Last Four Things' to review, so obviously I needed to read the first book.
When I say that I read this book and the sequel, 'The Last Four Things' over the space of two days, I think you can get an idea of how good these books are.
The Left Hand of God, follows the story of Thomas Cale, a 14-15 year old boy who has lived a brutalised existence at the hands of The Redeemers, specifically Redeemer Bosco - who takes a special interest in Cale. Following the discovery of a horrible secret, Cale with his two companians (Vague Henri and Kleist) escape the fortress, knowing that if they stay the will become 'An Act of Faith'. However Cale's escape becomes an unlikely catalyst for Redeemer Bosco's carefully laid plans.
From the summary I've given, you could be fooled into believing this is a typical young hero story, but that would be cheapening the complexity of the characters, the plot and of the world Hoffman has built. Cale as a character has no admirable qualities - he's cold, brutal and can kill a man in moments, but Hoffman makes you empathise with this character due to the horrible life he's lived. In the end as the story progresses, you realise that although all three boys have been trained to kill and seem to be mature beyond their years - their emotional maturity is that of a child.
Hoffman development of the characters is excellent - although sometimes the female characters seem to be less developed (which isn't surprising considering the genre). From Bosco to minor characters, each character has been well developed - and given characteristics even when only mentioned in passing. Of all the characters, I believe the most interesting is Vague Henri - while Kleist and Cale seem to be numbed from the beginning (and slowly let others in as the series progresses), Vague Henri (which is such a wonderful name) seems to be the strongest character emotionally. He may not have gotten singled out as Cale was, but still he received the same brutality that Kleist and others received, but still seems to empathise, be loyal and make friends. I think he's an interesting contrast to Cale - and Hoffman has done exemplar job of capturing the complexity of their friendship which allows Vague Henri to almost act as a grounding force for Cale especially as the series progresses.
The world of The Left Hand of God, seems to be a strange alternative reality, where at some point in time - a moment of forgiveness was replaced with a moment of vengence/violence. Therefore, elements of our world like Jesus of Nazareth seems to be pushed to one side for the Hanged Redeemer. Similarly besides the mention of religion, familiar places such as Italy and Switzerland exist and cultures such as the Laconians. Although I found the mentioning of places like Switzerland slightly jarring, I found the whole idea behind the world of the redeemers to be very interesting and realistic.
Beyond the characters and the world building, Hoffman displays his skill as a wonderful story teller of military battles and political intrigue. Honestly, when I read fantasy I usually skip any battle scenes as I find them boring, but I was completely glued to those in this book. And as for political plot, the Redemers would do the Borgias proud with their mix of religious zeal and corruptive power.
To summarise I have given this book 9 stars, as a military and political fantasy it is well written with really good characters and plot, my only fault is concerning the female characters, especially in relation to the main characters. It is a small thing (especially in regards to the genre) but considering how important the relationship between Cale and Arbell and it's repercussions - I felt that there could have been more insight to it. Yes there are moments of 'fade to black' and I don't think there was any problems with the physical relationship but to me the emotional connection (which we're told of) is never shown to the reader. But like I said, this story isn't really about romance etc. so it's a small fault.
So, even if you don't read high fantasy - I would highly recommend The Left Hand of God series but be warned you won't be able to stop reading once you start :)