Three boys grow up almost entirely in an inland monastery, as does a girl from a similar convent, in post-apocalyptic America.
The Left Hand of God was a disappointment. Even allowing for over-hyping, I expected more from a book hailed as ‘ “Ender’s Game” meets the Inquisition.’ In truth, while it does deal with harshly, highly trained children, Daniel Abraham recently covered the same ground better (A Shadow in Winter).
Overall, Left Hand could have benefited from a more aggressive editor. There were occasional well-turned or strking phrases, but they were mixed in with a greater amount of awkward phrasing, typos, poor or even incorrect word choice, inconsistent narrators, and inappropriate context.
The setting appears to be a post-apocalyptic North America, given references to Memphis, the Appalachians, and dollars. The universe here is very small – a couple of neighbouring kingdoms (essentially) – and the known world appears to extend no more than several hundred miles. Society has regressed to a standard fantasy/medieval level where siege engines are an innovation. Yet at one point, a lady blithely sends someone off to the Middle East, and there is mention of a Jerusalem campaign a couple of hundred years back. It’s hard to see how such a minor empire can so easily cross the Atlantic.
The book is full of similar inconsistencies or improbabilities. For example, while our world is still restricted to four children with very limited experience, a colour change is compared to color changes in an octopus – a creature none of the children will have heard of, and which likely no one in this entire world has heard of or observed. Similarly, while our protagonist is described as the youngest ever to enter the monastery, at about age 6, the author later describes crowds of 5 year old residents chanting .
The story itself is interesting, with some novelty, though also with some enticing threads left almost completely unexplored by the end of the book. However, the inconsistent writing prevents it from being convincing, and tired stereotypes make matters worse – for example, Jews suddenly enter late in the story, purely to describe a class of moneylenders.
All in all, interesting, but hard to recommend, like a fantasy written by someone with only a passing familiarity with the genre. Some new things happen, but the errors more than overcome the freshness.