Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: The Last Four Things

Title: The Left Hand of God
Author: Paul Hoffman
Pages: 422
ISBN: 9780718155209
Series: Left Hand of God #2
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Returning to the Sanctuary of the Redeemers, Thomas Cale is told by the Lord Militant that the destruction of mankind is necessary – it is the only way to undo God’s greatest mistake.

Cale seemingly accepts his role in the ending of the world – fate has painted him as the Left Hand of God, the Angel of Death. Absolute power is within his grasp – the terrifying zeal and military might of the Redeemers a weapon for him to handle as simply as he once used a knife.

But perhaps not even the grim power that the Redeemers hold over Cale is enough – the boy who turns from love to poisonous hatred in a heartbeat; the boy who switches between kindness and sheer violence in the blink of an eye. The annihilation that the Redeemers seek may well be in Cale’s hands – but his soul is far stranger than they could ever know.

The Last Four Things continues from where The Left Hand of God ended. Cale is back under the control of Redeemer Bosco after being betrayed by Arbell. Bosco believes that Cale is the wrath of God incarnate and wants him to lead the Redeemers in a God decreed mission to wipe the entire human race from the face of the Earth.

As I said in my review of The Left Hand of God, I found the use of real-world names and countries disconcerting. You don’t really know whether this is a fantasy world, the real world or a mixture of both. In the end I settled at viewing it as a combination of an alternate history and alternate reality version of Earth, which seemed to help.

Hoffman continues in the same writing style, extensively borrowing from other works and incorporating them into his story. One of the most apparent to me was the use of the events in the Boer war as a mould for “The Folk”, which Cale duly decimates using the same type of scorched earth tactics the British used in real life. There are many similar examples throughout the novel and it almost seems as if the author has gotten too used to using historic events to bother creating some of his own. The flipside to this is that, provided you are familiar with the source material, there is a chance that you might enjoy how he integrates it into the novel.

The writing style feels more convoluted than the first novel and the story meanders quite a bit. At times I was thoroughly engaged, but most of the time I was hoping for something exciting to happen. The dialogue between Bosco and Cale often felt as if they enjoyed spouting philosophical or political rhetoric at each other instead of having actual conversations. Their interactions mostly deal with religious dogma and political maneuvering which became quite tiring after a while. There were some humorous moments though, especially one incident where Bosco’s entire plan gets foiled by bureaucratic ineptitude.

Cale is his usual gloomy, unpredictable self and he’s even more jaded after the betrayal by Arbell and seeing the bloodshed brought on by his actions. Vague Henri is still the supportive friend and his devotion and attempts to keep Cale grounded is touching and often humorous. One character that evolves quite a bit is Kleist. After going his separate way he inadvertently saves another maiden in distress, Daisy, and joins her clan where he builds a life for himself. It was interesting to see him get to play a larger role in the story. Most of the other characters from the first novel only make brief appearances towards the end, when they are used to set the stage for the forthcoming sequel.

Religious cynicism continues to resonate throughout The Last Four Things. It seems Hoffman has a very dim view of religion which is extensively reflected in the narrative and plot points. In this case it’s even more severe than in the first novel. So, if digs at religion (the Catholic faith in particular) is likely to upset you be forewarned.

The Verdict:
This was a slow read for me. The story is interesting enough, but gets bogged down too much in the infighting and political machinations of the Redeemers. The pacing is a bit uneven with long boring stretches, where nothing much happens, interspersed with a couple of exhilarating scenes.

The ending is intriguing and closes with a considerable cliffhanger. I’ve grown quite attached to Cale and his companions and for that reason alone I want to see how things ultimately turn out.

The Rating: 5.5/10

1 comment:

  1. Very fair review KJ.

    As incongruous as it may be Cale is the character who will make me come back to see how this trilogy ends. Because he's such an anti-hero I found this quite ironic. I'm glad to see that viewing the world as an "alternate reality" helped. :)

    The Word Fiend