The Left Hand of God, by Paul Hoffman. I found the cover and the premise intriguing; didn't get around to it the first time I checked it out, but now I've gotten into it. And by (the titular) God, the premise and the characters are as exciting as I want them to be.
Hoffman hits most of my sweet spots--we've got a religious sect, a bunch of kids in a boarding school-like situation. Now, both of these are horrifying--usually I like the more positive explorations of this stuff. It's easy to take the constrictions of a religious lifestyle and say, "Look, oppressive!" I generally prefer the stories about the complexities, or at least the draw. But you know, a well-realized fictitious religion brings a lot of great stuff to a story.
Then you've got Cale, the main character. Young teenager who is smarter, more talented, more dangerous than any of the adults around him. It could be seen as an easy sell, but full credit here--Cale kind of might be a sociopath--but maybe not--but he's really dangerous. This is no Ender Wiggin, with the mind and soul of a good kid and the honed instincts of a killer. This is a kid who doesn't know who he is, but he makes other people nervous, and maybe himself, too.
So this is what I've liked about the book. I want to know what happens--I want to know if the boys bring down their enemies, or if they even get away. What happens in their lives? I'm sold.
But. But...well, this. Patricia Wrede (The Raven Ring, Mairelon the Magician, 100 other YA books you should read) talks about the tight third person, vs. third person omniscient. She explains very clearly the problem with an omniscient narrator who jumps casually from mind to mind, sometimes our hero, sometimes a bystander, sometimes a whole group of people. Left Hand adds a new level, with a narrator who occasionally says something about what the characters will learn in the future, or what's going on right now that they don't know. It's practically out of an old penny dreadful: "Little did they know that their archenemies were hatching a diabolical plot as they spoke!"
There are also random moments when the narrator appears to be someone specific in the world of the story. The first line of the book is, "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." Now, that's the voice of someone who's been there, right? But that is not the voice of the narrator who later tells you what two different people are thinking and feeling as they have a conversation.
So it's a bit of a muddle there. There are other things, anachronism type things about how people who have spent their entire lives in a very specific, rigid, horrifying condition have knowledge of very specific things (they pine for things they should never have heard of), and modern, casual grammar snuggled up against High Fantasy Talk.
None of these is ridiculously off-putting, but they conspire to tug me out of the narrative more often than is good for the book. I think I'm at a turning point--if Cale gets more and more likeable, I'll end up liking the book. If he gets darker and darker, I might not care as much what happens to him. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.
And there's a sequel! The Last Four Things, and it's already out. We'll see if I sell myself on reading it. It's hard enough not to spoil the book I'm reading with the blurb from the next one! I can't be trusted.
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