Epic fantasy, as a genre, usually runs either hot or cold for me. I would devour everything fantasy that came my way for decades until I hit, in my opinion, the bottom of the barrel, and ended up with a run of spectacularly bad epic fantasy.
So, in turn, I avoided picking up fantasy for many, many years, until I ended up reviewing Patricia Briggs’ reissue if her first book, Masques, here on FanaticSpace. That book reminded me how much I loved the genre, and it was time to give fantasy, in particular epic fantasy, another chance.
(Disclaimer for FTC regulations – I have received this Advanced Reader Copy at no cost.)
When I received The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman as an ARC, I was ready to deep-dive into the second book of this series. As any time I’m presented with an established series, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to get involved with it from the first page, but this did not disappoint in getting me caught up without being heavy-handed in the review of the first book, The Left Hand of God.
The epic story of Thomas Cale-introduced so memorably in The Left Hand of God–continues as the Redeemers use his prodigious gifts to further their sacred goal: the extinction of humankind and the end of the world.
To the warrior-monks known as the Redeemers, who rule over massive armies of child slaves, “the last four things” represent the culmination of a faithful life. Death. Judgement. Heaven. Hell. The last four things represent eternal bliss-or endless destruction, permanent chaos, and infinite pain.
Perhaps nowhere are the competing ideas of heaven and hell exhibited more clearly than in the dark and tormented soul of Thomas Cale. Betrayed by his beloved but still marked by a child’s innocence, possessed of a remarkable aptitude for violence but capable of extreme tenderness, Cale will lead the Redeemers into a battle for nothing less than the fate of the human race. And though his broken heart foretells the bloody trail he will leave in pursuit of a personal peace he can never achieve, a glimmer of hope remains. The question even Cale can’t answer: When it comes time to decide the fate of the world, to ensure the extermination of humankind or spare it, what will he choose? To express God’s will on the edge of his sword, or to forgive his fellow man-and himself?
The writing style is reminiscent of some contemporary accounts of historical record, which normally wouldn’t throw me off, but seemed to make things just a bit harder to sympathize with the character. The omniscient narrator in this book tends to throw around SAT-worthy words without actually connecting them to the context of the piece, but not enough for me to truly hate reading it, just enough to make me stutter while reading.
All of the characters are amazingly well-thought out, but my biggest complaint when I got to the end was that Thomas Cale, the lead character, is no more sympathetic there than he is at the beginning of the book where I knew nothing of him. I left the book caring not a hair more for him, as I believe I need to for a book to be engaging.
If given the opportunity, though, I do believe I’d read the next book in the series, just to see how Mr. Hoffman ends this grand story. Who knows, maybe in the last book of the trilogy will make the poor Thomas Cale more likable to me.
The Last Four Things will be available August 4, 2011 from Dutton Hardcover.