The Left Hand of God

The Left Hand of God is a fantasy trilogy by Paul Hoffman. I read the first book a few years ago and found it very fascinating and atypical as fantasy goes. Its world is an alternative medieval Europe, many places have real world names, but the geography is very different. The main power in the world is an allegorical warlike Church with many fighting monks. It is brutal and quite realistic. The story contains rather detailed descriptions of fights and battles, so if you enjoy battle tactics, then there is bonus for you. If you want dragons and magic, less so. The way the story and the world is built is not really like anything I’ve seen before. Not that I am a fantasy super-nerd, but I did read a few.

Recently I noticed that part two and three had been published, so I ordered them, as the first one had really captivated me. I was, to be honest, quite disappointed and bored by the second part. The third part was a bit better. The main thing for me is that an allegory can be good for one book, but too much for a trilogy. I see it can have its use, but it cannot carry (imho) a long story. Simply because an allegory works a statement, not as an epic story. In my opinion. Now, The Left hand of God is not the usual allegory, as it uses a lot of real world names and milieus. The trilogy is very well written, I am not arguing it is a bad story.

There is a postscript by the author where he tells us a bit about his life and rather brutal experience of a Catholic boarding school in the 1960s. For people who have experience or very good insight in such or related things, the story probably says more than for the average reader. It can serve as a confirmation or maybe even catharsis. If not, the allegory does not fully work, as allegory must depend on the reader to see both stories at the same time. E.g. a parody might be allegoric, but if I do not know enough of the original (being it a piece of literature or real world events), then it does not work. Another allegory is the more coded message, when the truth might not be put in print for fear of censorship or even persecution. If a reader would not recognise any allegory in the trilogy then this trilogy of war, adventure, deceit, ideologies etc I think would still stand on its own. But for a person who, like me, has less of connection to the real world stories this book connects to, it is just too long. I think it would have helped me to read the postscript first. It is not a spoiler as any reader in a European context would recognise the story as allegorical after not many pages. (Compare it to the report on the Nacirema, which might even require more than one reading to reveal the “true” story).

Not a 5 star review, but I hope I at least made some reader curious about the trilogy. It is very original.

I might check out some of Hoffman’s other books, as he is a good writer. Some day, the pile of unread books seem to never decrease. 😉


  1. Sounds interesting although I’m not sure when (or if) I will get around to reading it. My pile of unread books got so out of hand that I had to ban myself from buying any more. It’s taken five years, but I can finally see the bottom of the pile 😀

    For interesting and atypical fantasy, though, the Shadows of the Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky is well worth a look.

    • Banned yourself from buying books?? That is true duffer discipline!
      I’ve done that too! Many times 😉

      Shadows of the apt I see often as a Ubuntu/Debian user. Joking aside, sounds interesting and original. I’ll bookmark it in that list that seems not getting shorter… 😉

      • I’ve done remarkably well with the ban — it’s been a few years already. Of course, I still drop some very heavy hints in the run-up to Christmas and birthdays 😉

        I wonder if Fedora users ever suffer from Shadows of the Yum 😉

        • Sorry for slow reply, Paul.
          I must say your book acquiring method makes good economic sense 😉
          The Fedora deal is sweetened. Sugar is not healthy. Hold on to your hat! 😉

          • I wouldn’t worry about your reply speed. I’m far from the fastest commenter on the internet — duffers deserve their delays 😉

            Economics really wasn’t a consideration when I stopped buying books. I just needed to break the habit, developed when I was single, of picking up any interesting sounding book as soon as I heard about it. With three young children running around, I found that I was suddenly buying books far more quickly than I could read them.

            That said, dropping clear hints does mean I can (usually) avoid receiving the sort of gift that goes straight into a drawer 😉

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