You’d think I’d have changed the way I choose a good book by now, as a decent title and a cool picture do not make for a good novel – but it helps. It wasn’t just these things which made me decide to take this book on holiday with me. It was also the comments inside by the author’s peers and normally harsh critics. It was this comment from Harry Sidebottom that really got my attention: ‘Dark, haunting, and exciting. If you do not enjoy this book something has died in your soul’. What a call to arms! So, I had to read this book. For once though, the striking title was supported by the acclaimed contents, slightly marred by the fact that it is a kids’ book. Still, this never stopped a certain young wizard.
The Left Hand of God is a novel striving to fill a void in the market for a book that will entice young boys to read, and it may just achieve it. I could not put the book down and was engaged instantly and completely by the characters and the scope of the strange world that Hoffman has created. The lead character, Thomas Cale, even though in his teens, is a strong, well defined and kick-ass hard man, who manages to hover over the precipice of good and bad, and still remain the guy you want to win. The story starts in a rather innocuous way with Cale, the troubled orphan, in a regimented religious institution. The other characters assemble, as friends to support his efforts to escape, or at least survive another day, but at no point is it obvious what is going to happen next. The style of writing is sharp, witty, intelligent and at times shocking in content. Hoffman is able to convey complex characters, with emotional depth – well, with his male characters, at least. The two main female leads need rescuing, and are led by their emotions; a tad clichéd for an otherwise wonderful tale, putting a dampener on its overall accomplishment. Despite this, there are interesting nuances to the world, which make the reader want to know more, as they seem frighteningly recognisable (especially the references to ‘The Redeemer’, who appears in a Christ-like manner and is worshipped for his selfless acts on Earth in order to save the souls of the worthy). It makes the aggressive, inhumane actions of the church on their own followers, and the rationalisation they use to account for their behaviour, hauntingly familiar. This appears to be Hoffman’s overall message: do the beliefs of any one denomination justify the killing of others with different beliefs? Obviously not. Pretty big concept for young adult fiction.
The story leads us through an increasingly violent tale, with struggles for supremacy and politics, and with people as commodities and life without value. It is a very intelligent take on the dangers of religious fanaticism, mixed with opposing beliefs, and ‘the cause’ worth killing for. This, however, is the backdrop for Cale’s personal journey, as a force to be reckoned with in his own right and a bit of an enigma. There are some tender moments which show that part of his psyche, but more than anything, he is a mercenary figure. The novel builds up to an amazingly epic resolution and pay-off. Without giving too much away, however, the ending itself did not satisfy, but this could be as there is still so much to be told. Overall it is one of the best young adult fiction books I have read since Joseph Delaney’s Spooks Apprentice saga, which is also worth a look. The Left Hand of God could be the beginning of a wonderful, highly imaginative series, with the scope to expand on the epic world Hoffman has created and give the reader a lot more of the wonderfully complex Thomas Cale.