Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Left Hand of God is a confusing book. It is as if the author, Paul Hoffman, took a history of Classical and Medieval Europe and ran it through the blender. Once the source material was a rich broth of ideas, Paul, with a story teller’s flair, reassembled the whole mess into something new. However, he did not quite end up with a cake.

The Left Hand of God just never gels together into something greater than the sum of its parts. As you read you see flashes of Harry Potter, Karen Miller’s Godspeaker Trilogy, or alternate history fantasy, etc. The last is especially jarring. Mr. Hoffman’s re-use of familiar terms is off-putting. Every time it seemed that I was sinking into this new world a very familiar term would pop up and yank me back to the present. Trying to reconcile the fact that Jesus of Nazareth makes an appearance is difficult. It breaks my immersion.

What exacerbates this issue of reality intruding into fantasy is the enormous amount of irrelevant information pouring off the pages. While the use of historical terms may have been intended to be comforting and familiar to a fan of history, the majority of them are not needed and simply confuse you. The narrative is constantly speaking of far away lands and nationalities and then promptly forgetting them.

What really illustrates this problem is the world map supplied with the book. It is very small. It focuses on the two primary points of interest, The Sanctuary and the Great City of Memphis; excluding all else. The maps conveys the idea of a narrow narrative focus. Yet, the main focus of the Redeemers is their War with the Antagonists along two great Fronts. This is repeatedly referenced yet is agonizingly absent on the map. The story steadily doles out new people, facts, places, names, etc that are not on the map. If the tale is suppose to be focused on this little corner of the world, then why does it constantly wander off?

The most damning aspect of this deluge of useless trivia is trying to figure out what is important and what isn’t. Some things seem important, such as the scented pellet Cale finds during his ordeal with Redeemer Picarbo, but are never mentioned again. Others, such as Arbel Materazzi’s brother Simon, are equalling confounding. Without any foreshadowing, Simon appears, figuratively, out of thin air seeming to serve no more purpose than to cement the relation between Cale and the ruling Materazzi. Will Simon become a central figure or will he simply be dismissed with a laconic “that is that,” as with Solomon Solomon?

My worst complaint with the narrative are the jumps. Mr. Hoffman sets the stage for conflict and then promptly leaps to the resolution. This left me angry. Everyone knows a Hollywood movie has a happy ending, its the path there that makes the movies interesting. When the plot leaps forward from conflict to resolution without traveling the intervening thorny path you feel robbed.

I did enjoy the book though. It was amusing and interesting. More than anything it has a feel of promise. Perhaps all its component parts have not yet meshed very well but maybe in two or three more books I will get the cake I want.

Penguin: The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0525951315