Seven o’clock already?! Where does the time go..?
Thought I’d get back to the books a little. I don’t want this blog to become a diary. I have kept various online diaries over the years and while through them I have made some great friends, I’m more interested in keeping a little distance between my soul and the keyboard these days.
So… The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman. I feel I’m slightly behind the curve on this one since it has been out since 2010, back when paperbacks still only cost £6.99. But I have read it now. That’s what counts. I mostly loved it. That is to say, I really like it, and parts of it I loved, and there wasn’t anything I didn’t like, but there were dips. I do really want to read part two, The Last Four Things, which I suppose is a positive thing. I’m rambling. (Amazon reviewers of part two are polarised)
I suppose what stops me giving this a full on 100%-joy rating is the uneven tone. I’m still not sure if this is a YA book or not. I don’t mind; I’ll read YA and there’s some great stuff out there, but Hoffman can’t quite seem to make up his mind. The protagonist is fifteen years old, but this is not necessarily a clincher. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy begins with a youthful protagonist but there is no doubt in my mind that Hobb is writing for a grown-up audience. He also breaks the fourth wall sometimes in trying to give a description of something, and having myself been trained out of using “you” narrative at school this knocks off a few points.
I like the premise and I like the characters. This is good. Cale is a very shady protagonist. When we meet him he is surly, insubordinate and brutish. Pretty much like any teenage boy. The Sanctuary is an unforgiving place and we quickly learn about the realities of life there. I wouldn’t necessarily say we immediately sympathise with Cale but we can understand why he’s so closed-off. There are some bits of the early plot which are far-fetched but necessary for the real action to get underway (the rope, the simplicity of the escape etc) which at the same time feels churlish to mention because I also hate when small plans go HIDEOUSLY WRONG just to add more suffering. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of his age. But then as Cale later explains, he’s a tactical genius. Of course his plan goes without a hitch.
I think Vague Henri is my favourite character. He starts off as a cautious (though not truly cowardly) and weedy character with a bit of Cale hero-worship going on. He is the first to grow up, I think, after his experience with Riba in the desert, and Hoffman keeps Henri’s feelings in check without adding an obvious second romantic subplot. Kleist – the third escapee – doesn’t change much. He is grumpy, he always wants to do the opposite of what the others do, and he only stays with them because he doesn’t want to be alone. He has some layers but he’s usually too contrary to let you see them.
The setting was also a little confusing. Hoffman’s website describes it as an alternate-history story which stops references to the Norwegians being totally out of whack. But how far back? Hoffman says he read up on the battle of Agincourt for the Battle at Silbury Hill, which makes sense given what happens, but the actions of the Redeemers seem a little like the most extreme parts of the Spanish Inquisition. And then there’s the weird steampunk vibe you get from the description of Kitty Town:
“There were bawlers with their loozles, mawleys with their ya-yas hanging out for all to see; there were benjamins in jemimas calling out ‘Yellow, come and get get.’ There were burtons and their naked pikers, middlemen calling for agony, Aunts with their bung nippers covered in rouge and shouting for a half and half. There were Hugenots selling bum-baileys to the highest bidder and nutty lads with long tongues looking for a pigeon in a packet of two.”
…What? Followed later by the crowds at the Red Opera, it almost felt like droogs were going to come bursting out of the woodwork:
“All the spivs and gangs of the city were there – the Suedeheads with their red and gold waistcoat and their silver-coloured boots, the hooligans in their white braces and black top hats, the rockers in their bowlers, monocles and thin moustaches. The girls were out in force too, the Lollards with their long coats and thigh-high boots and shaven heads, the Tickets with their shaped red lips like a cupid’s bow, their tight red bodices and stockings black as night.”
And yet the armies fight in full plate and use longbows. It’s all a bit of a mish-mash. Not to mention the Rabbi in the Ghetto with Payot and a wide-brimmed hat who plays chess, and the city of York, and Memphis come to that, though that could be in reference to the Egyptian capital and just a symbolic thing. It’s all very confusing.
A good story though, and I nearly finished it last night but with sixty pages to go I stopped myself because I didn’t want to be up too late. I had to drop it like it was burning hot when I got to a page break (in the middle of the longest chapter!) because there was no chapter end forthcoming. I finished it when I got home from work this afternoon.
Next on the list a YA book I’ve been waiting for: Marked by Rivka Spicer. I’ve been watching her write this for ages and she kept teasing me with little hints but now she’s finally got it edited and out so once I’ve done some work I’ll dive into that! Oh, it’s about witches.