Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

July 21, 2010

Paul Hoffman – The Left Hand of God

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 12:10 pm

I was pleased to find this in the library yesterday, since I’ve been seeing strongly negative reviews from a lot of people since it came out, and wanted to see what all the anti-fuss was about. Having finished it, I still don’t know, because I was rather charmed by it.

It has some flaws—specifically, a somewhat shallow level of characterisation, and a distinct lack of rounded female characters—but I think that’s thoroughly explainable by the biased & unpleasant narrator. (I’m looking forward to reading any sequels that may appear, partly in the hope of finding out who’s narrating it and which bits they just made up.)

Biased and unpleasant the narrator may be, but I was rather charmed by the narrative style, which begins at “baroque” and occasionally takes sudden left turns into “ludicrously surreal”. Sadly, it isn’t kept up consistently throughout the novel, but the lapses into normality are unexceptionable and only stand out because of the very strong beginning.

The nomenclature, geography & theology of the secondary world are equally surreal; it’s an obvious pisstake of Fantastic Europe (complete with religious wars in Eastern Europe, expanding empires, and references to historical figures) with a few invented fantasy cultures plonked into the middle. The religion is a peculiar Christian-heresy-analogue; I’d say an invented one, but I’m mortally certain that at least one historical sect has held it as their central tenet that God just wants to punish us for killing His son, and must be appeased.

There’s a back-cover quote from Charlie Higson, which can be summarized as “Peake does Dickens”. There are certainly a few Dickensian thematic echoes, but I’d want to add Ender’s Game into that, and KJ Parker’s Scavenger trilogy.

Unsurprisingly for this genre of fantasy, the book ends on a large climactic battle; unusually, it’s realistically done. Slow, grinding, messy, and with all the unfolding inevitability of a blocked drain during a thunderstorm.

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