Raised from early childhood in the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. When he escsapes to the outside world, Cale learns that his embittered heart is still capable of loving- and breaking.
But the Redeemers won't accept the defection of their prized pupil without a fight...
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Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary. The country around it is full of scrub and spindly weeds and you can barely tell the difference between summer and winter — which is to say that it is always bloody freezing no matter what the time of year. The Sanctuary itself is visible for miles when there is no filthy smog obscuring it, which is rare, and is made of flint, concrete and rice flour. The flour makes the concrete harder than rock and this is one of the reasons that the prison, for this is what it truly is, has resisted the many attempts to take it by siege, attempts now considered so futile that no one has tried to take Shotover Sanctuary for hundreds of years.
It is a stinking, foul place and no one except the Lord Redeemers go there willingly. Who are their prisoners, then? This is the wrong word for those who are taken to Shotover, because “prisoners” suggests a crime and they, none of them, have offended any law made by man or God. Nor do they look like any prisoner you will ever have seen: those who are brought here are all boys under the age of ten. Depending on their age when they enter, it may be more than fifteen years before they leave and then only half will do so. The other half will have left in a shroud of blue sacking and been buried in Ginky’s Field, a graveyard that begins under the walls. This graveyard is vast, spreading as far as you can see, so you will have some idea of the size of Shotover and how very hard it is even to stay alive there. No one knows his way round all of it and it is as easy to get lost within its endless corridors that twist and turn, high and low, as in any wilderness. There is no change in the way it looks — every part of it looks much the same as every other part: brown, dark, grim and smelling of something old and rancid.
Standing in one of these corridors is a boy looking out of a window and holding a large, dark blue sack. He is perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old. He is not sure and neither is anyone else. He has forgotten his real name because everyone who comes here is rebaptized with the name of one of the martyrs of the Lord Redeemers — and there are many of them on account of the fact that, time out of mind, everyone they have failed to convert has hated their guts. The boy staring out of the window is called Thomas Cale, although no one ever uses his first name, and he is committing a most grievous sin by doing so.
What drew him to the window was the sound of the Northwest Gate groaning as it always did on one of its rare openings, like some giant with appallingly painful knees. He watched as two Lords in their black cassocks stepped over the threshold and ushered in a small boy of about eight, followed by another slightly younger and then another. Cale counted twenty in all before another brace of Redeemers brought up the rear and slowly and arthritically the gate began to close.
Cale’s expression changed as he leaned forward to see out of the closing gate and into the Scablands beyond. He had been outside the walls on only six occasions since he had come here more than a decade before — it was said, the youngest child ever brought to the Sanctuary. On these six occasions he was watched as if the lives of his guards depended on it (which they did). Had he failed any of these six tests, for that was what they were, he would have been killed on the spot. Of his former life he could remember nothing.
As the gate shut, he turned his attention to the boys again. None of them was plump, but they had the round faces of young children. All were wide-eyed at the sight of the keep, its immense size, its huge walls, but, though bewildered and scared simply by the strangeness of their surroundings, they were not afraid. Cale’s chest filled with deep and strange emotions that he could not have given a name to. But, lost in them as he was, his talent for keeping one ear alive to whatever was going on around him saved him, as it had so many times in the past.
He moved away from the window and walked on down the corridor.
Cale stopped and turned round. One of the Redeemers, hugely fat with folds of skin hanging over the edge of his collar, was standing in one of the doorways off the passage, steam and odd sounds emerging from the room behind him. Cale looked at him, his expression unchanged.
“Come here and let me see you.”
The boy walked toward him.
“Oh, it’s you,” said the fat Redeemer. “What are you doing here?”
“The Lord of Discipline sent me to take this to the drum.” He held up the blue sack he was carrying.
“What did you say? Speak up!”
Cale knew, of course, that the fat Redeemer was deaf in one ear, and he had deliberately spoken quietly.
Cale repeated himself, this time shouting loudly.
“Are you trying to be funny, boy?”
“What were you doing by the window?”
“Don’t play me for a fool. What were you doing?”
“I heard the Northwest Gate being opened.”
“Did you, by God?”
This seemed to distract him.
“They’re early.” He grunted with annoyance and then turned and looked back into the kitchen, for that was who the fat man was: the Lord of Vittles, overseer of the kitchen from which the Redeemers were well fed and the boys hardly at all. “Twenty extra for dinner,” he shouted into the evil-smelling steam behind him. He turned back to Cale.
“Were you thinking when you were by that window?”
“Were you daydreaming?”
“If I catch you loitering again, Cale, I’ll have the hide off you. Hear me?”
The Lord of Vittles turned back into the room and began to close the door. As he did so, Cale spoke softly but quite distinctly, so that anyone not hard of hearing would have picked it up.
“I hope you choke on it, you lardy dritsek.”
The door slammed shut, and Cale headed off down the corridor dragging the large sack behind him. It took nearly fifteen minutes, running most of the way, before he came to the drum located at the end of its own short passageway. It was called the drum because that was what it looked like, as long as you disregarded the fact that it was six feet tall and embedded in a brick wall. On the other side of the drum was a place sealed off from the rest of the Sanctuary where, it was rumored, there lived twelve nuns who cooked for the Redeemers only and washed their clothes. Cale did not know what a nun was and had never seen one, although from time to time he did talk to one of them through the drum. He did not know what made nuns different from other women, who were spoken of rarely and only then with distaste. There were two exceptions: the Hanged Redeemer’s Holy Sister and the Blessed Imelda Lambertini, who at the age of eleven had died of ecstasy during her first communion. The Redeemers had not explained what ecstasy was, and no one was foolish enough to ask. Cale gave the drum a spin, and then it turned on its axis, revealing a large opening. He dumped the blue sack inside and gave it another spin, then he banged on the side, causing it to emit a loud boom. He waited for thirty seconds, and then a muffled voice spoke from the other side of the drum wall:
“What is it?”
Cale put his head next to the drum so he could be heard, his lips almost touching the surface.
“Redeemer Bosco wants this back by tomorrow morning,” he shouted.
“Why didn’t it come with all the others?”
“How the hell would I know?”
There was a high-pitched cry of muffled rage from the other side of the drum.
“What’s your name, you impious pup?”
“Dominic Savio,” lied Cale.
“Well, Dominic Savio, I’ll report you to the Lord of Discipline and he’ll have the hide off you.”
“I couldn’t care less.”
Twenty minutes later Cale arrived back at the Lord Militant’s training buroo. It was empty except for the Lord himself, who did not look up or give any sign that he had seen Cale. He continued to write in his ledger for another five minutes before speaking, still without looking up.
“What took you so long?”
“The Lord of Vittles stopped me in the corridor of the outer banks.”
“He heard a noise outside, I think.”
“What noise?” Finally, the Lord Militant looked at Cale. His eyes were a pale, almost watery blue, but sharp. They did not miss much. Or anything.
“They were opening the Northwest Gate to let in the freshboys. He wasn’t expecting them today. I’d say his nose was out of joint.”
“Hold your tongue,” said the Lord Militant, but mildly by his unforgiving standards. Cale knew that he despised the Lord of Vittles, and hence he felt it less dangerous to speak in such a way of a Redeemer.
“I asked your friend about the rumor they’d arrived,” said the Redeemer.
“I have no friends, Redeemer,” replied Cale. “They’re forbidden.”
The Lord Militant laughed softly, not a pleasant sound.
“I have no worries about you on that score, Cale. But if we must plod — the scrawny blond-haired one. What do you call him?”
“I know his given name. You have a moniker for him.”
“We call him Vague Henri.”
The Lord Militant laughed, but this time there was the echo of some ordinary good humor.
“Very good,” he said appreciatively. “I asked him what time the freshboys had arrived and he said he wasn’t sure, sometime between eight bells and nine. I then asked him how many there were and he said fifteen or so, but it might have been more.” He looked Cale straight in the eyes. “I thrashed him to teach him to be more specific in future. What do you think of that?”
“It’s all the same to me, Redeemer,” replied Cale flatly. “He deserved whatever punishment you gave him.”
“Really? How very gratifying you should think so. What time did they arrive?”
“Just before five.”
“How many were there?”
“None younger than seven. None older than nine.”
“Of what kind?”
“Four Mezos, four Uitlanders, three Folders, five half-castes, three Miamis and one I didn’t know.”
The Lord Militant grunted as if only barely satisfied that all his questions had been answered so precisely. “Go over to the board. I’ve set a puzzle for you. Ten minutes.”
Cale walked over to a large table, twenty feet by twenty, on which the Lord Militant had rolled out a map, which fell slightly over the edges. It was easy to recognize some of the things drawn there — hills, rivers, woods — but on the remainder there were numerous small blocks of wood on which were written numbers and hieroglyphs, some of the blocks in order, some apparently chaotic. Cale stared at the map for his allotted time and then looked up.
“Well?” said the Lord Militant.
Cale began to set out his solution.
Twenty minutes later he finished, his hands still held out in front of him.
“Very ingenious. Impressive, even,” said the Lord Militant. Something in Cale’s eyes changed. Then with extraordinary speed the Lord Militant lashed the boy’s left hand with a leather belt studded with tiny but thick tacks.
Cale winced and his teeth ground together in pain. But quickly his face returned to the watchful coldness that was these days all that the Redeemer ever saw from him. The Lord Militant sat down and considered the boy as if he were an object both interesting and yet unsatisfactory.
“When will you learn that to do the clever thing, the original thing, is merely your pride controlling you? This solution may work, but it’s unreasonably risky. You know very well the tried solution to this problem. In war a dull success is always better than a brilliant one. You had better learn to understand why.”
He banged the table furiously.
“Have you forgotten that a Redeemer has the right to kill instantly any boy who does something unexpected?”
There was another crash as he hit the table again, stood up and glared at Cale. Blood, not a great amount, dripped from the four holes in Cale’s still-outstretched left hand. “No one else would have indulged you the way I have. The Lord of Discipline has his eye on you. Every few years he likes to set an example. Do you want to end up as an Act of Faith?”
Cale stared ahead and said nothing.
“Do you think you are needful, you useless Zed?”
“This is my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault,” said the Lord Militant, striking his breast with his hand three times. “You have twenty-four hours to consider your sins and then you will debase yourself before the Lord of Discipline.”
“Now, get out.”
Dropping his hands to his side, Cale turned and walked to the door.
“Don’t bleed on the mat,” called out the Lord Militant.
Cale opened the door with his good hand and left. Alone in his cell the Lord Militant watched the door close. As it clicked shut, his expression changed from that of barely constrained rage to one of thoughtful curiosity.
Outside in the corridor Cale stood for a moment in the horrible brown light that infected everywhere in the Sanctuary and examined his left hand. The wounds were not deep, because the studs in the belt had been designed to cause intense pain without taking long to heal. He made a fist and squeezed, his head shaking as if a small tremor were taking place deep inside his skull as the blood from his hand dripped heavily onto the floor. Then he relaxed his hand, and in the grim light a look of horrible despair crept over his face. In a moment it was gone, and Cale walked on down the corridor and out of sight.
None of the boys in the Sanctuary knew how many of them there were. Some claimed there were as many as ten thousand and growing more with every month. It was the increase that occupied the conversations most. Even among those nearing twenty years old there was agreement that, until the last five years, the number, whatever it was, had remained steady. But since then there had been a rise. The Redeemers were doing things differently, itself an ominous and strange thing: habit and con- formity to the past were to them like air to those who breathe. Every day should be like the next day, every month like the next month. No year should be different from another year. But now the great increase in numbers had required change. The dormitories had been altered with bunks of two and even three tiers to accommodate new arrivals. Divine service was held in staggered rosters so that all might pray and store up every day the tokens against damnation. And now meals were taken in relays. But as for the reasons behind this change, the boys knew nothing.
Cale, his left hand wrapped in a dirty piece of linen previously thrown away by the washerserfs, walked through the huge refectory for the second sitting carrying a wooden tray. Late to arrive, though not too late — for this he would have been beaten and excluded — he walked toward the large table at the end of the room where he always ate. He stopped behind another boy, about the same age and height but so intent on eating that he did not notice Cale standing behind him. It was the others at the table whose raised heads alerted him. He looked up.
“Sorry, Cale,” he said, shoving the remains of his food into his mouth at the same time as he stepped out from behind the bench and hurried off carrying his tray.
Cale sat down and looked at his supper: there was something that looked like a sausage, but was not, covered in a watery gravy with some indeterminate root vegetable bleached by endless boiling into a yellowy pale mush. In a bowl beside it was porridge, gelatinous and cold and gray as week-old slush. For a moment, starving as he was, he couldn’t bring himself to start eating. Then someone pushed his way onto the bench beside him. Cale didn’t look at him but started to eat. Only the slight twitch at the edge of his mouth revealed what filthy stuff it was.
The boy who had pushed in next to him started to speak, but so low was his voice that only Cale could hear. It was unwise to be caught speaking to another boy at mealtimes.
“I found something,” said the boy, the excitement clear even though he was barely audible.
“Good for you,” replied Cale without emotion.
This time Cale did not react at all, instead concentrating on getting the porridge down without gagging. There was a pause from the boy.
“There’s food. Food you can eat.” Cale barely raised his head, but the boy next to him knew that he had won.
“Why should I believe you?”
“Vague Henri was with me. Meet us at seven behind the Hanged Redeemer.”
With that the boy stood up and was gone. Cale raised his head, and a strange look of longing came over his face, so different from the cold mask he usually showed the world that the boy opposite stared at him.
“Don’t you want that?” said the boy, eyes bright with hope as if the rancid sausage and waxy gray porridge offered more joy than he could easily comprehend.
Cale did not reply or look at the boy but began eating again, forcing himself to swallow and trying not to be sick.
When he had finished, Cale took his wooden tray to the cleanorium, scrubbed it in the bowl with sand and put it back in its rack. On his way out, watched by a Redeemer sitting in a huge high chair from which he could survey the refectory, Cale knelt in front of the statue of the Hanged Redeemer, beat his breast three times and muttered, “I am Sin, I am Sin, I am Sin,” without the slightest regard for what the words meant.
Outside it was dark and the evening fog had descended. This was good; it would make it easier for Cale to slip unnoticed from the ambo into the bushes that grew behind the great statue.
By the time he arrived Cale was unable to see more than fifteen feet in front of him. He stepped down from the ambo and onto the gravel in front of the statue.
This was the largest of all the holy gibbets in the Sanctuary, and there must have been hundreds of them, some of them no larger than a few inches, nailed to walls, set in niches, decorating the tubs of holy ashes at the end of every corridor and on the spaces above every door. They were so common, so frequently referred to, that the image itself had long ago lost any meaning. Nobody, except the freshboys, really noticed them for what they were: models of a man hanging from a gallows with a rope around his neck, his body hatched with scars from the torture before his execution, his broken legs dangling at strange angles beneath him. Holy gibbets of the Hanged Redeemer made during the Sanctuary’s founding a thousand years before were crude and tended to a straightforward realism: a terror in the eyes and face for all the lack of carving skill, the body twisted and wracked, the tongue protruding from the mouth. This, said the carvers, was a horrible way to die. Over the years the statues had become more skilled but also milk-and-water. The great statue, with its huge gallows, its thick rope and twenty-foot-tall savior dangling from it, was only thirty years old: the weals on his back were pronounced but neat and bloodless. Rather than being agonizingly smashed, his legs were held in a pose as if he were suffering more from cramp. But it was the expression on his face that was oddest of all — instead of the pain of strangulation he had a look of inconvenienced holiness, as if a small bone was stuck in his throat and he was clearing it with a demure cough.
Nevertheless, on this night in the fog and the dark the only things that Cale could see of the Redeemer were his huge feet dangling out of the white mist. The oddness of this made him uneasy. Careful not to make any noise, Cale eased himself into the bushes that obscured him from anyone walking past.
The boy from the refectory, Kleist, and Vague Henri emerged from the bushes in front of Cale.
“This better be worth the risk, Henri,” whispered Cale.
“It is, Cale. I promise.”
Kleist gestured Cale to follow into the bushes against the wall. It was even darker here and Cale had to wait for his eyes to adjust. The two others waited. There was a door.
This was astonishing — while there were plenty of doorways in the Sanctuary, there were few doors. During the Great Reformation two hundred years before, more than half the Redeemers had been burned at the stake for heresy. Fearing that these apostates might have contaminated their boys, the victorious sect of Redeemers had cut their throats just to be on the safe side. After the restocking of freshboys, the Redeemers had made many changes and one of them had been to remove all the doors wherever there were boys.
What, after all, could be the purpose of a door where there were sinners? Doors hid things. Doors were about many devil-type things, they decided, about secrecy, about being alone or with others and up to something. The very concept of a door, now that they thought of it, began to make the Redeemers shake with rage and fear. The devil himself was no longer just depicted as a horned beast but almost as often as a rectangle with a lock. Of course this antipathy toward doors did not apply to the Redeemers themselves: the very sign of their own redemption was the possession of a door to their place of work and their sleeping cells. Holiness for the Redeemers was measured by the numbers of keys they were allowed to hold on the chain around their waists. To jangle as you walked was to show that you were already being tolled to heaven.
This was why the discovery of an unknown door was something amazing.
Now that his eyes were becoming accustomed to the dark, Cale could see a pile of broken plaster and crumbling bricks piled next to the door.
“I was hiding from Chetnick,” said Vague Henri. “That’s how I found this place. The plaster on the corner there was falling away, so while I waited I picked at it. It was all crumbling — water had got in. It only took half a mo.”
Cale reached out toward the edge of the door and pushed carefully. Then again, and again.
Kleist and Vague Henri smiled. Kleist reached into his pocket and took out something Cale had never seen in a boy’s possession — a key. It was long and thick and pitted with rust. All their eyes were shining with excitement now. Kleist put the key in the lock and turned, grunting with the effort. Then, with a clunk! it shifted.
“It took us three days of shoveling in grease and stuff to get it to open,” said Vague Henri, his voice thick with pride.
“Where did you get the key?” asked Cale. Kleist and Vague Henri were delighted that Cale was talking to them as if they had raised the dead or walked on water.v
“I’ll tell you when we get in. Come on.” Kleist put his shoulder to the door, and the others did the same. “Don’t push too hard, the hinges might be in bad shape. We don’t want to make any noise. I’ll count to three.” He paused. “Ready? One, two, three.”
They pushed. Nothing. It wouldn’t budge. They stopped, took a deep breath. “One, two, three.”
They heaved, and then with a screech the door shifted. They stepped back, alarmed. To be heard was to be caught, to be caught was to be subject to God knows what.
“We could be hanged for this,” said Cale. The others looked at him.
“They wouldn’t. Not a hanging.”
“The Militant told me that the Lord of Discipline was looking for an excuse to set an example. It’s been five years since the last hanging.”
“They wouldn’t,” repeated Vague Henri, shocked.
“Yes, they would. This is a door, for God’s sake. You have a key.” Cale turned to Kleist. “You lied to me. You’ve got no idea what’s in there. It’s probably a dead end, nothing worth stealing, nothing worth knowing.” He looked back at the other boy. “It isn’t worth the risk, Henri, but it’s your neck. I’m out.”
As he started to turn, a voice called from the ambo, angry and impatient.
“Who’s there? What was that noise?”
Then they heard the sound of a man stepping onto the gravel in front of the Hanged Redeemer.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book starts off in an extremely dark world that young adult readers may find startlingly unique or maybe even disturbing. This is not a breezy, magical world as in many such tales, but it's a world of grim realities, pain, and hardship. Literally. It feels very medieval with historical undertones, given that the methods of punishment seem to be congruent with those used in that time period. The main character, Cale, has traits much like the typical young adult male hero - extremely tough but inwardly a bit sensitive (at least eventually). As he learns to interact with the world outside the "Sanctuary" which is the only home he has ever known, he begins to learn to love and the dual parts of his nature - violence and a growing sense of love - are at war with each other. To do what he has been forced into, he must be tough and brutal, but his love for Arbell contrasts with this and makes him strangely vulnerable at times. I enjoyed this book, but I felt that character development (my favorite part of any story) took a back seat to the actual plot of the novel. I would have enjoyed it more had it lingered on some interesting key points (Cale's background story, his tormented life at the Sanctuary, the relationship with Arbell, Cale's personal feelings, etc) a bit more to make the strong stronger. However, the lack of personal details in Cale's story actually, I believe, would make it of stronger appeal to younger male readers. As an adult woman, I want to take pity on Cale and see him in light of relationships and learn more about him rather than see him fight in battles and complete heroic deeds. A more male audience that would rather see these things, so they would probably enjoy the book quite well. One issue that stood out to me was that of redemption. The horrible place Cale is raised is called the Sanctuary and populated by Redeemers, but no type of true redemption or sanctuary is offered. While not making any direct claims or taking a direct stance, the book provides ample thematic elements for discussion of religion, faith, what true redemption means, etc. All in all, this book made me feel uneasy, which is something that rarely happens to me. I would probably recommend it to middle-school aged males with a few reservations due to the violence and sensitive themes. However, in middle school, boys seem to be all about those things and would definitely enjoy it. This is a review of the ARC copy provided to me by Goodreads.com.
It is hard to fully categorize this novel. Medieval fantasy, certainly. (That the setting is a vague number of centuries, even millennia in the future, does not disallow this classification.) A coming of age story, perhaps. (The protagonist is oddly static, despite experiencing within the novel's pages one of the most formative of adolescent experiences: first love.) Future dystopian, yes, though without any explanation as to the nature of humanity's technological devolution. An antihero tale, most definitely this of all others. That said, if there is any typecasting in this story, it is not in its genre(s) and related plot. It would be in its characters.<br><br> As this novel is widely touted as the beginning of a trilogy, it suffers from that. The protagonist Thomas Cale, while interesting, is stoic in the extreme. Indeed, any changes to his demeanor occur largely in the exposition from other characters' points of view. Perhaps Cale becomes more self-aware to his true, more heroic nature during the story, but any evidence comes primarily through narrative from other characters' points of view. Overall, it makes Cale look altogether a "pawn" instead of a "knight," even in any small part. The love interest, Arbella, is of course the complete opposite of Cale. She is an aristocrat and exceptionally beautiful, and of course the story of their love is told almost entirely from the point of view of their class distinctions.<br><br> The world of Hoffman's story is a direct borrowing of European history, in which every event is expanded infinitely. Memphis is politically Rome. Its leader is the Doge (cf. Renaissance Venice), the patriarch of a large aristocracy who embrace the cult of beauty more than the 17th century French court and the cult of chivalry to an extent that makes Bushido look mild. Of course, this aristocracy does so quite oddly. The Sanctuary is the headquarters of a religious group that is an extremely thinly veiled analog to Roman Catholicism, complete with its own Pontiff. Combine the most extreme asceticism with the most regimented of the Crusade-era militaristic orders, and you have the Sanctuary. They worship the "Hanged Redeemer," the son of the One True God and of the one pure woman ever to exist. They have a litany of saints and martyrs and feast days for each. The parallels go on yet further. Their enemies are the Antagonists (=Protestants). Their battle is a recapitulation of World War I in France, only where the trench warfare extends for far longer.<br><br> The ending is problematic, too. Yes, this is the first part of a trilogy, but ending the story with such a cliffhanger makes the ending of the first Spiderman movie a less obvious set-up for a sequel. It was a trite cliffhanger reveal that does, at least, explain the title.<br><br> Such obvious borrowings could be excused if it were not for Hoffman's writing style. Hoffman almost randomly introduces asides breaking the narrative "fourth wall" (to steal a metaphor from theatre/cinema). Each aside says the same thing in different wording, "Give the person(s) a break. You'd do the same in his/her/their position." Thus, what would otherwise be an adult book with appeal and accessibility to teenagers certainly gains the narrative tone of a story for pre-teen children or younger. Hoffman's book
does make ya want to Reado next one
One of the best parts of reading any book is forming predictions and then seeing whether you were right or not. I don't mind at all having my predictions proven incorrect throughout my reading, but it is very disappointing when everything that comes to pass is more bland and boring compared to what I had predicted. This book just seemed to fall very flat for me. At parts, it was very riveting and I could not pull myself away, but, even then, I had a large, unnamable sense of boredom and a feeling of let's-get-on-with-it.As a history minor and aficionado, you CANNOT go into this book without a very strong ability to suspend your disbelief. The world IS our world, but NOT. It's like seeing Europe's history through a muddy puddle. Some things are familiar (Jesus, Norway, Kiev). Other things will make you try to figure out what the hell the author is talking about (apparently in this world, Jesus was hanged instead of crucified and somehow ice cream exists in what is apparently a pre-Crusades world).As a nit-picky side-note, the erratic lengths of the chapters royally p*ssed me off: four chapter of two pages, one of forty, then one of ten then another of two. It's really freakin' annoying. I can deal with super-short chapters (a la Daniel X with chapters of two pages each) or books with really long chapters (a version of Moll Flanders I read had no chapters). Pick a number and stay reasonably close to it for chapter length. Grrrr...I may or may not read the sequels, but then again, I think I could supply my own ending much more satisfactorily.Edit: As a side note, only two characters were even the slightest interest to me (Vague Henri and Riba) and they are barely even background characters half the time. Cale's personality is such that I had no real vested interest in whether he won, lost, or existed. He's not someone I readily feel sympathy for (as he seems to be on the cusp of having a pathological dissociative disorder and the emotions he DOES feel seem contrived and forced on the part of the writer). Nor is he someone you love to hate (like James R. Rebhorn in every movie he's ever been in). He's just a robotic ass.
I tried on several occasions to read this novel I received from Library Thing's Early Reviewers group. I have to say that I have now given up on it. This is a very dark story, and while I usually like this type of book, it just did not capture my attention at all. When reading a novel becomes a chore, it¿s time to move on.1 star
Overall I enjoyed this book and am reading and enjoying the 2nd part of the trilogy - `The Last Four Things¿ - at the moment.ConsIt is a difficult to classify book - it could be set several hundred years in the future or past (probably the past) as it refers to many place names and characters that we are familiar with such as Memphis and Jesus. So, it is definitely our world but when? The familiar name usage sometimes feels as if the author was them in a offhand way, which is slightly confusing. In scope, it has the feel of a fantasy story but there are no fantasy elements in it.ProsWell written, it is an enjoyable read with characters who are believable and enjoyable and who have lots of interesting things happen to them.Plot (intro)We are introduced to the central character, Cale, a teenage boy who accepts his horribly cruel circumstances under the control of religious zealots, The Redeemers. This changes when Cale kills a Redeemer he discovers performing a vivisection on a young girl. He escapes with two friends and another girls who was next on the redeemers list.
Cale has been brutally trained by the warrior monks at the Sanctuary of the Redeemer since he was a young child. At sixteen he is lethal in hand to hand combat, and when he discovers a terrible secret about the Sanctuary, he must make good his escape from the Sanctuary.The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman is the story of Cale and his escape (with some friends) from the Redeemers. The first in a series, The Left Hand of God is an outstanding introduction to Cale and the Redeemers. I look forward to more books in this series.
The Left Hand of God is the first the first volume in a currently unnamed series. As first books go, it does its job well enough. We're introduced to the central characters, catch glimpses of the major conflict(s) to come, and end with a cliffhanger intended to foster interest in subsequent books.The Redeemers and their grisly ways intrigued me. This was actually a pleasant surprise for me, as Fantasy religions that borrow heavily from Christianity end up annoying me more often than not. I think the difference in Hoffman's case is that dark twist, and the fact that it doesn't seem tacked on.The author's occasional bits of wry, black humour were also an unexpected treat.There were, however, some shortcomings.I found that most of the story was far too distantly narrated. There were times at which the narration 'zoomed in' from that detached perspective and those were much more enjoyable.The inclusion of Real World names (Miami as a tribe/people, Kiev, Norwegians, Dutchmen, Jerusalem, etc.) distracted me. Each time one of them popped up, I'd end up stopping and puzzling over what sort of world this was supposed to be and where The Sanctuary and Scablands were supposed to be located. Perhaps this will end up being addressed further on in the series. As it stands, though, they really tore me out of the story.Overall, The Left Hand of God served its purpose well enough. Could have been better, but could have been worse. I'm intrigued enough to look into the next volume.
The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman ¿ Review for LibraryThing Early Reviewers from an advance uncorrected proof.Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God is the story of sixteen year old Thomas Cale, one of many boys brought in childhood to the terrible Sanctuary of the Redeemers, where the Redeemers raise and train militant monks for their endless holy war against the Antagonists. Abused mentally and physically, fed vile food (but knowing none better) the boys of the Sanctuary learn only to fight and kill. Even amongst these, however, Cale is somehow special, singled out for extra attention by Bosco, Lord Militant of the Redeemers. However, Cale has a plan to escape, and so he does, accompanied by his friends, Vague Henri and Kleist, and by a girl that Cale rescued from imminent dissection by the Lord of Discipline. Together they find their way to the city of Memphis where they become useful to the ruling Materazzi and begin to discover what they have been missing all these years. They also begin to unravel the mystery of Cale's importance to the Redeemers and his destiny, whether for good or ill.Cale and his friends are violent and crude as their Redeemer masters made them, and the scheming aristocracy of Memphis have never dealt with their like and are not fond of them, but find them useful. Cale, in particular, resents the attitudes of their new employers. The Redeemers are so unrelentingly horrible that the reader really wants them squashed like bugs, but the Materazzi are not exactly angels either. Still, they're definitely the lesser evil.The world of the story is ours but not ¿ some dystopian post-apocalyptic future or alternate past. There are occasional hits of familiarity ¿ mentions of Jews and Jesus, Norway and Malagasy. It's very hard to pin down, though, which left me slightly wrong-footed.This is a dark but engrossing novel, with some black humour and the development of plot and the characters is well done, but things are just getting to the interesting bit when it ends. I hate that. It is apparently the first of a trilogy. I will definitely be on the lookout for the sequels. I would say this book is appropriate for young adult on up.
Shotover Sanctuary is the religious grounds of the Redeemers. Boys are sent here under the age of ten and only about half of them make it to fifteen... or leave by way of a blue sack, to the grave yard. This is where Cale has lived since he can really remember, he is now fourteen or fifteen years old. One of the many strict rules here is you are not allowed to have friends, and there are plants to "befriend" you - planted by the Redeemers - and you pay dearly for being caught with friends. But Cale has two of friends, Vague Henri and Kleist. One night while delivering a message to the Redeemer of Discipline, Cale sees something the Redeemer is doing that is so horrible to him, he attacks the Redeemer. In the Sanctuary Cale's results of this act would end in death for him, as punishment. So he runs, taking his two friends so they don't get dragged in to the mess, and the girl with him... This is the journey of these four trying to make it.The book seemed to break into four sections for me.In the beginning ninety pages we are introduced quickly to many Redeemers and the world they live in - religion and way of life - along with the boys of the story. You really get an inside look at how stern and brutal the world in on the in side of these walls, from minimal amounts of tasteless gray porridge to eat, to not being creative and being physically punished if they are. These boys are very physically fit for their ages and their training is very brutal. In the first ninety pages this world starts here and grows the suspense of the war the Redeemers are fighting with the Antagonists and what the boys are trained for and why then moves to the outside world. But then it slows down as Cale and company make their journey to Memphis. The next hundred or so pages where them running off. I enjoyed meeting new characters such as IdrisPukke and liked his character. But they are trying to get away and I felt as if they really didn't worry about being in danger from the all feared and wonderful assassins of the Redeemers. They where quite relaxed and not worrying about who knew who they were. Like no one would be looking for them, yet they knew they where after them. I know there is the deal made in capturing the boys and the Redeemers where not to interfere as it would offend the leader of whom they talked to, but the Redeemers are this feared group. The Redeemers are to be the hard core ones who don't let escapees get far or away for long. But it seems as they don't care so deeply about Cale and his friends being free. Or maybe this was part of a plan to move things along in a different direction. Almost using Cale to get what they want. But in this section we wonder away from what I had thought to be a major plot in the book - the Redeemers and the war they are fighting.The next ninety to a hundred pages started to pull back toward the main plot. Getting back to the Redeemers hunting Cale and starting into some action and movement of the characters. Getting everyone back into the idea of corruption and scheming going on behind the scenes.The last 80 pages brings the action in full swing and the ties all start to fit together some. There are still questions for me with some of the actions and reasons behind it all. I am curious of the Redeemers and the war they are fighting, and why what was done was so. But there are two more books left to read.With all this being said, I did enjoy the book. I thought the two middle sections could have been combined together with the ending eighty pages - as I think it slowed down in the middle parts. But all in all I did enjoy the idea of the Redeemers and the curiosity has got me, I will pick up book two to see where the conspiracies all go.
I try every once in a while to step out of my comfort zone and read something that for me, is different.The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman filled the bill. It's a dark fantasy, set in a dystopian past.Cale is taken at a very young age to the Sanctuary of the Redeemer to be trained by warrior monks to fight a holy war against the outside world. The thousands of boys inside the wall of the fortress have no idea of the world outside the walls - they've been indoctrinated to believe in the monks' cause. But one day, Cale and two of his friends (although friendship is discouraged) discover a secret door. They find that there are others - females,plentiful food, music and more. When Cale acts against the monks, he and his friends must escape out into the unknown.What follows is a great adventure. I was intrigued by what would be beyond the walls. Hoffman's world is an odd mix of the past, drawing upon biblical references, philosophical views and historical works. Yet, his description of the impending and continuing wars among the peoples of this world parallels many of the conflicts happening in our present day. One ruler's plans to take all of one race to a remote island and be rid of them calls the Holocaust to mind.This book somewhat reminded me of a darker Princess Bride as well. Cale is drawn to a young woman of the ruling cast of Memphis and much of his path is dictated by his attraction to her. Battles, escapes, miscommunication and odd characters populate The Left Hand of God. Hoffman has a sly sense of humor, injecting offbeat comments when least expected.It's hard to say who this book will appeal to. The publisher has touted it as a dark Harry Potter, the protagonists are in their teens, but the audio book version is listed as 18+. There is cruelty and violence, yet love and hope as well. Definitely one for fans of speculative fiction. This is the first of a planned trilogy and the ending has neatly set up the second book. As there were a few plot lines that were never fully explained in this first book, I predict they too will be part of the sequel. Not my usual fare, but I enjoyed it and am curious as to what Hoffman has planned for Cale
Alice in wonderland meets Dr. Suess meets epic war novel. Stange use of language, strange group of characters and more plot and character development holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Nonetheless, some of the book had me turning pages and interested in the whys and what will happen. Sadly, many of the answers are missing. Not sure I'll read what appears to be other books in the series. However, not horrible and a decent, quick read.
Lucky enough to receive a review copy of this book, I was wondering what to expect. I was immediately enthralled by the novel. Having recently getting into this genre, Hoffman joins the ranks of Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss as those talented writers who now have added me as a raving fan.Cale is an intriguing and well developed lead character. "The Left Hand of God" is an outstanding debut and Hoffman should be a force to be reckoned with in the fantasy genre. I, for one, am highly anticipated his next release.
Note: This book was received through the early reviewer program and this review contains a spoiler.Finishing this novel left me in a foul mood. Let me tell you why: this is not a good book. It could have been, but it isn't. It is a book that explores some interesting ideas, but in a lackluster, sloppy, bitter way. It is a book that presents some intriguing characters, but inconsistently and casually changes their nature so that they are sometimes relatable and sometimes repugnant. It is a book that has just enough power to its story that I want to know what happens next -- and that is the most frustrating part, because it is the beginning of a series and I wish it had been a stand alone, seriously -- but is so irritating and frustrating a reading experience that I have no real desire to endure such a thing again.Basically, I want to read a synopsis of the sequel to this book, not the sequel itself. In case you need more than just a rant, allow me to support my opinions for a moment. The novel begins at a place called the Sanctuary, a training center for young boys that takes all the most disturbing accusations leveled at the Catholic church throughout history and pushes them to their most violent extremes (of course, the novel doesn't use the word "Catholic" at any point, but, well, duh). The Sanctuary is run by the Redeemers, a fanatical religious sect that echoes the Catholic Jesuit order, but taken to extremes of violence and cruelty. (Really, the details of the book deliberately make the reader squirm, but not to any real, satisfying purpose -- gratuitous violence is the norm here.) Our central character is Thomas Cale, a not-very-likable young acolyte who has been trained, in the most brutal ways, to be an exceptionally efficient killer. When certain events occur toward the middle of the book (again, disturbing events) and Thomas Cale escapes from the control of the Redeemers, the action really begins. The Redeemers struggle to get him back, again using the most brutal and violent means, and Cale himself struggles (sort of -- though the people around him suffer the brunt of the struggle) with his own nature. These struggles are set within a world that is frustratingly inconsistent. Hoffman has written a book that reads somewhat like a YA fantasy novel, but uses real-world references (Jesus of Nazareth, familiar geography) interspersed with made-up locations and figures, like the Hanged Redeemer, who is the divine icon of the fanatical religious sect. At first, one looks for meaning in the way that Hoffman stitches together real historical/geographical references and invented icons and place-names, but eventually it seems more like the author simply ran out of ideas for his own names and decided to pull random places together instead of working on it a bit more. The result is a constant nagging sensation, as one reads, that one should know where the story is taking place... except one can't quite place it.Other irritations that pull you away from what story there is here include the trite phrasing -- Hoffman at one point even uses the tired out "words were no longer necessary" cliche to make it clear that his characters had started having sex -- the sloppy editing (which, to be fair, could simply be a consequence of reading an ARC) and the habit of over-hiding the characters with hoods and cloaks and anything else shadowy and secretive. Honestly, from Hoffman's descriptions, you would think that we are never supposed to know anything about anyone in this book. While secrecy is essential to the development of a suspenseful novel, there comes a point where the reader is no longer intrigued, but genuinely confused about what the hell is going on in the text. We reach that point pretty quickly in Hoffman's novel. The climactic battle is so stupid and so graphic that at times I felt an irrational urge to shout at the text. After all of this irritation, by the time the reader gets to the reveal at the end of the novel (***SPOILE
It took me foooreverrr to finish this book. I thought I would really like this book becuase it was full of adventure. But for some reason I just couldnt get into it. I got like 50 pages in and then I started reading some other book, then I would come back to it. I forced myself to read this book because I needed to write a review. The over all story was really good but I felt like I was watching the battle from afar instead of fighting next to Cale.It also seemed like there was lots of paragraphs that were just meant to take up space. They seemed to be way off topic and I felt lost. I would stop and say "wait....what just happened" or "what the heck are they talking about"Overall this seemed like an interesting book but I didnt love it as much as I thought I would. I would give it a try though.
Great beginning, with a feeling of both Gormenghast with your worst monastic experience that you can imagine, which was excellent and broody, rapid deterioration close to the middle of the book, and the last Act was very poor, better buy classic fantasy if you want it, the mystery of the location of the world was also not that exciting....my advice, best avoid
I like the general concept of the story, but I found myself struggling to make it through the book. I expected more plot and character development... there were too many times when I struggled to grasp what was really going on.
The Left Hand of God starts off intriguing enough: Thomas Cale is a young acolyte in "the Sanctuary" of the Redeemers, where religious zealot leaders preach love and redemption before beating the boys and feeding them rotten food. There's some adventure with Cale and a couple of his friends discovering a hidden door, among other things. And despite the despicable Redeemers (who are obviously some twisted, alternate-universe Catholics) the first quarter of the book is actually quite gripping.Then Cale and his friends make an escape attempt, and the book takes a turn for the cliche and forgettable. Cale is revealed to be a perfect, unfeeling killer, a military genius, and more knowledgeable in medicine than the finest doctors of the largest empire in the world. He clashes with aristocracy and falls in love with a princess. Ho hum. Only at the very end of the book (more or less a cliffhanger; this is only the first volume in a projected trilogy) did the story grab me again, redeeming the book for me, if you will. Until the last ten pages, I had no intention of seeking out any of the sequels; now I just might have to.Besides the been-there-done-that of the central portion of the book, the author made some bizarre and/or questionable choices in his worldbuilding. This is an obvious fantasy world that includes: God, the Holy Spirit, the Ark of the Covenant, Jesus of Nazareth, Norwegians, cities named "York" and "Memphis", and more. The religion of the Redeemers is very much a twisted version of Catholicism, where their personal Redeemer (not necessarily Jesus; he is mentioned as someone who lived in the belly of a whale) was hanged instead of crucified. The inclusion of such real-world names and ideas really distracts the reader right from the start, though by book's end one has mostly built up a tolerance to it. But perhaps the re-use of real names was preferable; some of Hoffman's made-up names are quite groan-worthy: IdrisPukke and Arbell Swan-Neck, for example. Mention should also be made of Vague Henri, which I actually thought to be a cute nickname, but which grew more than a little tedious when almost every single time he was mentioned it was by the full nickname.For a book about which I have so many complaints, it was an awfully hard book to put down. That in itself, coupled with the unexpected ending, inspires me to give The Left Hand of God 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Let me preface this by saying that I stopped reading this book. I started out and was interested and then the book seemed to dissolve into something that I couldn't really hang on to. I felt it was somewhat scattered. I felt there was so much there that maybe I was missing some of the points buried in description or meandering prose. Not for me at any rate. I decided to put it down and will maybe pick it up again at some point.
I devoured this novel, to be honest, and it was surprisingly satisfying. I'm not a fantasy reader, generally, and I was reluctant to pick this one up and actually start reading when it appeared in the mail, but I'm very glad I did. This is one of the first books I've read in a while that I've found myself practically unable to put down. The story is masterfully told, developed subtly with a surprisingly nuanced character development and foreshadowing - I found myself looking forward chapter to chapter as new questions were raised and others were finally answered. My only issue would probably be with the love interest character, who is written fairly flat with nothing to recommend her but her adoration for the protagonist - oh, and her beauty. It's a shame, that a novel with minor characters with motivations so developed (Simon and his tutor both, for example, both interesting individuals with very little "screen time"), that she'd be so underdeveloped. Despite this disappointment, though, which admittedly turned me off the last chapter of the novel, I'll be giving the following parts of this series a shot. I'm interested in seeing more of this universe and its population.
This is the first in a planned trilogy about a sixteen year old boy named Thomas Cale. Thomas has been raised in a remote Sanctuary of the Redeemers and trained to fight in a forthcoming holy war. He escapes after saving a girl who is being abused by one of the Redeemers. Thomas is destined for greatness but whether that will be on the side of good or evil is yet to be seen. Lots ofaction but I found the narrative to be disjointed. I don't think I will read the next installment.
An interesting first installment to a new series, but the ending fell flat. Cale's character was very well developed, as were some of the minor characters. I took some issue with how aware Cale was of his abilities - it did not seem that way in the first part of the book, so it was a surprise to hear him describe it later. I would read the next book in the series to see how it goes. In summary, good, but not great. 3.5/5.
The rise of fantasy has, in my opinion, produced two kinds of cliche-oriented reactions within the publishing spectrum: entertaining, inventive, and/or enjoyably derivative trilogies, and fascinating ideas and worlds mired by barely serviceable prose, lackluster plotting, and/or a general failure to maintain cohesion (in the plot, worldbuilding, character development, and/or the writing). Both groups aren't always separate, since sometimes a book with weak prose can still be a thrilling read, but usually they are. Unfortunately, I think The Left Hand of God fits into the latter of the two groups.Because the synopsis plays a role in my review, I'm going to post the version on the inside flap of the U.S. edition of the book:In the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, torture and death await the unsuccessful or disobedient. Raised by the Redeemers from early childhood like hundreds of other young captives, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. He doesn't know that another world exists outside the fortress walls or even that secrets he can't imagine lurk behind the Sanctuary's many forbidden doorways. He doesn't know that his master Lord Bosco and the Sanctuary's Redeemers have been preparing for a holy war for centuries-a holy war that is now imminent. And Cale doesn't know that he's been noticed and quietly cultivated.Then, Cale decides to open a door.It's a door that leads to one of the Redeemers' darkest secrets and a choice that is really no choice at all: certain death or daring escape. Adrift in the wider world for the first time in his young life, Cale soon finds himself in Memphis, the capitol of culture-and the den of Sin. It's there that Cale discovers his prodigious gift: violence. And he discovers that after years of abuse at the hands of the Redeemers his embittered heart is still capable of loving-and breaking.But the Redeemers won't accept the defection of their special subject without a fight. As the clash of civilizations that has been looming for thousands of years draws near, a world where the faithful are as brutal as the sinful looks to young Cale to decide its fate.It sounds intriguing enough, and Hoffman's book does deliver on a number of the points described above, but overall, The Left Hand of God falls desperately short in three key ways.The first failure has to do with point of view. While the synopsis indicates that Cale is the main character, Hoffman's writing fails to adequately display that, almost as if Hoffman didn't seem to know who the book was supposed to be about either. The first quarter of the book does focus on Cale, but the rest of the novel switches randomly from POV to POV to give the reader the thoughts of basically anyone in the room at that moment, or even people who are completely insignificant to the actual plot. None of this is done between chapters, which might have been okay, but within chapters, sometimes between paragraphs, and sometimes between sentences. One second we're hearing Cale's inner thoughts, and the next it's someone else. And before you can grow used to the transition, Hoffman switches again.From a purely stylistic standpoint, this is simply poor writing for two reasons: 1) trying to tell your readers everything everyone is feeling about everything sucks the life right out of the story, because very little remains a mystery, and 2) switching POVs in the middle of paragraphs is unnecessarily jarring and almost as annoying as inconsistent tenses. Sadly, Hoffman violates one of the golden rules of writing on a routine basis in order to give as many perspectives as possible--i.e. "show, don't tell." I suppose you'd have to in order to perform the aforementioned task, but breaking the rule so clearly, with no regard for its eccentricities and ambiguities, is careless. The prose suffers as a result.The Left Hand of God also suffers from narrative inconsistencies. For example, the synopsis indicates
Let's get one thing out of the way before I review this book. It's a confession. I was immediately attracted to The Left Hand of God because I grew up in Memphis and loved that Memphis was the place name used for the seat of debauchery. I'm not saying it's that way in real life, but it's got an interesting history so it's kind of cool to think it might have been or might still be.This book is utterly compelling in an unusual way. It's unusual because, quite honestly, there really isn't a likeable character to be found in the entire book. There are reasons to despise just about everyone. Often books about unlikeable characters are difficult to read because it's hard to connect. Not so in this case. In this case, my connection was to the storyteller (the author) in an interesting metafictional kind of way. It's hard to say whether this is intentional because it's not terribly overt. I love The French Lieutenant's Woman precisely because the metafiction is so very intentional and obvious. John Fowles spends most of the book telling you a story and talking to you about telling you a story and I find that wonderful. The Left Hand of God does this, but in a more subtle way. I fell in love with the storyteller's voice and through that the author and I was willing to follow him anywhere.Aside from an interesting story, Mr. Hoffman does wonderful things with language and tone. Both change as location and circumstance change becoming more gray or more bright and always wryly humorous. This one of the best fantasy debuts I've ever read and I was excited to read this one along with the second installment.
Interesting collage of multiple aspects of theocracy.