The Left Hand of God – Paul Hoffman

Setting: Fantasy – sword and sorcery type adventure. Without – so far – the sorcery.

Story: The Redeemers are religious extremists who make the Spartans look like they weren’t really trying. They are in the middle of a bloody war, and want to start another. The Materazzis are a family ruled empire who are the target of this attempt. In the middle stand some ex-Redeemers, an influential noble, and an adventurer. (I have done what I can not to disclose any of the plot. But it does have one!)

Good Stuff: Action, intrigue, violence, and fantasy are mixed into a potent page-turner. It is involving and engrossing. Some of the characterization works better than others, but don’t read it for the personalities. The world and the plot both have good potential.

Not So Good Stuff: The author believes in ‘tell, don’t show’ far too often. So, he – not his characters –  explains backdrop, rationale, and situations that might otherwise be unclear. However efficient that may be, the quality would have been raised had he used the characters to fill in the blanks, even if that meant more work by the author and the reader, and a longer book.

To offset this behavior, but not in a good way, the book mixes in references to real earth people (Jesus of Nazareth, as a man swallowed by a whale, the Jews as moneylenders…) and places (Memphis, Kiev), all with no context. Are these the same, different, duplicates, alternatives?  Are these references meant to be jokes? (At least this last part is redeemable in future episodes.)  The author seemed uncertain where and when to disconnect his tale from Planet Earth and its real history. If you want to see this done by a master, take a look at Mary Gentle‘s outstanding Ash: A Secret History.

My overall impression of this book: someone trying to be Joe Abercrombie or K. J. Parker, who still has lots to learn.

Score: 6/10