Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

This was a much better book than I had expected. If I had bothered to read the first page before putting it on my to-be-read shelf, it wouldn't have sat there gathering unmerited dust for so long.

The author's phrasing gives away immediately that he isn't just putting out another also-ran fantasy book: there's no pretension, no trying to fit in with the pack. It reads very much as if someone were telling us a story while we sat around a campfire, breathless and impatient for the next detail.

The book is compelling--especially in the beginning--because of the particular cruel and horrific circumstance in which we find our main character, a boy in his early teens being raised among hundreds of others in a religious order. The zealots who run the place offer no apologies for their treatment of their charges, and that treatment is terrible to behold. It's impossible not to admire anyone who survives this place, much less those who rebel and eventually escape. And just so, the reader finds himself already a quarter of the way through the book and very much immersed by the time the plot is really unfolding.

Hoffman can't maintain that grip quite so well once the MC and his friends have started exploring the wider world outside, but before the book begins to labor the plot--rather than just the environment and back story--becomes strong enough to carry the load, with a few stumbles but also a fair share of excellent twists and turns including an unanticipated ending that definitely merits a sequel or two. The Left Hand of God has turned out to be a great start for a truly epic fantasy series.

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