Book cover: The Left Hand of God - Paul Hoffman (generic fantasy assassin complete with hood, swirly-skirted cloak and two swords)

Three brutalised teenagers escape a monastery that turns out hardened soldiers for God. They stumble into the clutches of the most powerful empire in the region and unwittingly provoke a war between the monks and the empire’s peerless warrior class.

This is not what the book appears to be about from reading the blurb.

I don’t think I’ve been so disappointed since reading Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur (which starts to look good by comparison). I’m not sure what I expected and I do appear to be in the minority – this gets good ratings from other readers. But I really didn’t get on with it. At all. I’m going to run with bullet points as I just don’t have the energy for the full blown rant today:

  • The blurb on my edition is egregiously misleading, and appears to describe the series as a whole rather than providing an accurate snapshot of this novel. Consequently, it removes the tension and any element of surprise from the Big Reveal in the final chapter, undermining its own cliffhanger. Interesting choice, publishers.
  • The setting – which feels like a post-apocalyptic Europe – is undefined and unexplained, presumably although not explicitly because the boys are ignorant (given their upbringing). However, if it is Europe, it bears little resemblance to the geography whose names it appropriates. This is a particular bugbear of mine, as you can’t tell whether it’s lazy research or intention; I’d rather see an entirely fictional setting if the ‘reality’ isn’t actually important.
  • The main characters are also sketchily drawn and inconsistent; only sidekicks Kleist and Henri seem remotely genuine, partly because their two dimensions are kept very simple.
  • Female characters are all marginalised, appearing only to either be shallow, vapid and vain; or to fall in love; or to die. When a terrifying super-hard assassin is introduced, she is killed in the same chapter (having already fallen in love. I shit you not).
  • Oh my word, my kingdom for a bit of show don’t tell. Hoffman tells the reader everything, as world and characters are so inconsistent that left to show themselves, it would be nothing but a steaming mess (oh wait: it still is).
  • The latter chapters are a monstrous exposition that raises the bar in just how boring a war can be.
  • There are loose ends everywhere – possibly deliberately designed to be picked up in sequels, but left hanging in such a way that they simply feel like the author and editor forgot about them.

I did finish it, because it’s dead easy reading (I do half wonder if it’s ever classed as YA given the random veils drawn over swearing, sex and implied grimdark; if so, it’s bad YA – being YA wouldn’t excuse its faults) and it’s been a busy few days so it never escaped my handbag.

I certainly shan’t be reading the sequel (or even looking up a plot outline to see how it progresses) as it was so irritating and dull that I have no curiosity at all about what happens to any of the characters.

Palate cleansing required!

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