There was a time when I read a lot of fantasy fiction. The serious stuff by David Gemmell and the side-splittingly funny by Terry Pratchett, plus a few too many rubbishy Forgotten Realms titles. But I haven’t read much fantasy for years, so my latest choice of reading surprised me.
The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman certainly isn’t rubbish, but it is funny and serious at the same time and I’m still not entirely sure which way the author meant it to be taken. One page whimsical, the next brutal and uncompromising. It’s an odd combination.
The story is set in a vaguely medieval Earth. Places names are familiar: Memphis, York and Hungary for example. There are even references to a history we might recognise, like the attitudes towards the Jewish community and even one in passing to Jesus of Nazareth, although in Hoffman’s world, he is the Biblical character swallowed by the whale.
Thomas Cale is the central character, a 16 year old acolyte of the Redeemers, a hardline religious order/state fighting a long war of attrition against the Antagonist unbelievers in the east with tales of civilian genocide to complete the Eastern Front allusion. But while the rest of the world happily turns a blind eye, the Redeemers are secretly building their forces to attack west as well as east.
Cale is the acolyte of Redeemer Bosco, the Lord Militant and mastermind behind the plan, but he escapes The Sanctuary after witnessing an atrocity carried out by Picarbo, the fiftieth Lord of Discipline. He and his friends make their way to Memphis, capital of the Matarazzi Empire, and so his adventure begins.
As synopses go, this one doesn’t promise a bundle of laughs, but they are there, believe me, in the dialogue and situations. The names of a few of the characters that Cale encounters offers a clue: Vague Henri, IdrisPukke, Lord Vipond and Kitty the Hare for example.
Hoffman draws on a host of sources for his inspiration, from the Book of Judges to The Duchess of Malfi and a line from an old children’s film, while the philosophy of one of his characters is based on Shopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms and On the Suffering of the World. Not to mention lines from Homer’s The Anger Anger of Achilles as translated by Robert Graves.
The book has an unexpected ending, or at least it would be if you didn’t know that this is the first of a trilogy to be continued in The Last Four Things to be published in January.
If I have a criticism it is that some of the writing is a little clunky, by which I mean that there are times when I had to re-read paragraphs now and then to untangle the punctuation to get to the meaning. Even so, I would give it an eight out of ten and will be buying the next installment.
You can find out more at www.lefthandofgodtrilogy.com.