Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Left Hand of God

The Left Hand of God is first in a trilogy by Hoffman. The book centers around Cale, a young man forced at a young age to live at the Redeemer Sanctuary. As the book says, there is nothing redeeming about the place nor is it any type of sanctuary. In fact, it is a perverted view of the Christian faith, monastery living in particular. Their savior was actually hanged – and they have statues depicting his death. Everyone is sinful: all the followers of the Hanged Redeemer are constantly being physically and mentally punished in order to avoid the pitfall of hell.

It is difficult to tell at first what is happening in the book. The boys obviously are being abused. Those who survive literally live on the brink of death. I kept wondering what kind of faith this was. Hanging is common for the slightest offense, beatings are a regular occurrence. And don't even begin to talk about the food – the meat is called Dean Man's Feet.

Then Cale's friends (I use that term for this review but they are merely peers) find a hidden door in the garden and Cale's life takes a strange turn. It is obvious from the beginning, however, that there is something special about Cale. Even the other boys seem to know it. He seems to have some special abilities but it takes the rest of the novel to find out what they are and why he has them.

The book takes the typical fantasy plot line as the boys escape with an unlikely resident of the Sanctuary and wander in the countryside, narrowly escaping the Redeemers and the dogs. Then they enter the city of Memphis (the book seems set in a fantasy America although the writer is British) and the story takes a turn from the usual fantasy plot line. I kept expecting Cale to leave the city and go and become whatever he seems destined to become. However, Cale learns several life lessons in the city and the reader learns more about Cale.

I enjoyed reading The Left Hand of God, even though I did not like most of the characters. Cale is not someone you can find much empathy for, although he does show promise for future books. I liked his “friend” Vague Henry and the strange IdrisPukke. But they are minor characters. Hoffman focuses on Cale. I am trying to figure out why I liked the book, however. Maybe it was because Cale was not the typical fantasy figure/ hero. He is not likable – that makes him and the novel stand out. But neither did I find Cale despicable as I did his teacher, Bosco.

What did this book have to do with my faith? The whole Hanged Redeemer religion is an obvious attack on Christianity. Certainly, the idea of having statues of someone being hanged sounds hideous. However, we wear depictions of suffering and death on our bodies all the time: that is what the cross was. Thank goodness we don't nail sinners to the cross as their punishment. However, there is a theory of the atonement (why Jesus had to die on the cross) that says he took this punishment for us. Instead of us dying for our sins, Jesus died in our place. Our sins were nailed upon the cross. Jesus himself did nothing wrong. We are the sinners. But Jesus gave himself up for love of us. In fact, Jesus himself said that we must take up our own crosses in order to follow him. The difference between the suffering in this book and the suffering as a Christian is that we do so out of love for Jesus. This isn't a punishment because we are bad. Because Jesus has died for our sins, we can live in him. Carrying a cross while following him is a privilege. The burden is actually light compared to all the burdens we take on in life. What is missing in the whole religion depicted in the book is the concept of love.

I recommend this book for those of you who enjoy fantasy fiction. I will try to review the next book soon.

Happy reading!


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