Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"The Last Four Things" by Paul Hoffman (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The Last Four Things" HERE
Read FBC Review of The Left Hand of God

INTRODUCTION: Last year's The Left Hand of God was a novel that elicited very powerful but mixed responses; there were people that loathed it or thought it's the worst hyped debut of the year and there were people, including myself, that utterly loved it and thought it was awesome. So The Last Four Things was one the five novels I marked as must read, try and get a copy as soon as possible, etc for 2011 though I was a little apprehensive if the "magic" of The Left Hand of God will still be there for me, or the series will be exposed as "emperor's new clothes" as many others have claimed.

Once I opened it and I got entranced once more in the twisted world of Thomas Cale and the Redemeers, I applied my reading method for books I do not want to end - read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100 pages and then read the full 200, etc.

Due to circumstances I was not able to write this review for the earlier UK publication, so I postponed it for today's US publication and that added the time dimension since now after several months I can look back and evaluate it better.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I want to start by remarking that The Last Four Things is a book that most likely will have the same resonance as The Left Hand of God with the reader. You hated that, don't bother; you loved it, get this asap.

I make this claim since the things that distinguished The Left Hand of God from the run-of-the-mill dark bad boy fantasy that is in vogue today - the alternation of styles, from exuberant to really dark, the mostly superb word plays on the famous and infamous in history, the strange and occasionally merciless undertones and the twists and turns that truly made the next pages unpredictable are still there.

However there are some notable differences too. The Last Four Things has considerably more backstory and world building - and indeed things make sense and hang together eliminating one of my fears after the sketched world of the previous novel, namely that the author's world won't make sense in detail. But it does and here we see things like logistics, speed of communication, population sizes, etc, all adding depth and painting a full 3D picture.

The characters also get more texture, though the third person narrative allows Thomas Cale to still remain a mystery; now he is coming into his own, far from the scared boy genius of The Left of God, to the outwardly confident man that events if not age made him be. His master, tormentor and protector, Redemeer Bosco comes also into his own here and the novel is as much about his plans as about Thomas Cale's odyssey, so now we have two extremely powerful and larger than life characters not only one. And in a partly comic relief, partly wistful role, Kleist gets his own thread too, though I found it less interesting than the main Bosco/Cale one.

The other personages from the debut - Vague Henry, IdrisPukke, Vipond, Arbell and Conn Materazzi, etc - make also appearances and several more secondary but quite interesting characters are introduced too, while some of the scenes between them and Cale are utterly memorable and constitute a key to the ending which is another stunner. There was a point in the book where I thought I know what will happen and how The Last Four Things will end, but the author turned and surprised me once again making the trilogy ending another book to beg and cajole for as early a copy as possible.

"All but the kitchen sink" is still thrown in and The Last Four Things has some stuff that's even more outrageously funny than in The Left Hand of God, so I found myself shaking with laughter often, though the book is also pretty dark and not for the easily offended. The Pyramid of Lincoln and The Protocols of the Moderators of Antagonism - the Bosco ordered forgery to save his and Cale's bacon after the events in The Left Hand of God and Cale's defection - are among the many early "pearls" and the book abounds with these historical allusions as interpreted by the author.

In a very nice touch, the author has a great two page explanation about his sources, including famous philosophers, Catholic thinkers, poets, obscure manuals of war that are available online and one (in)famous speech of Saddam Hussein which seems to be on YouTube, speech that *** cribs in the book before ***. Since it's a Saddam speech, the last **** should be easily guessed at.

After some months have passed from finishing the novel, there is one weakness I missed in the emotion of the first read - The Last Four Things is ultimately a transitional middle book and while it has a clear theme and an ending to one of its main threads, we still remain a bit in the dark where all ultimately will go; as mentioned, I thought I had an idea, but the ending quickly disabused me of that.

Overall The Last Four Things (A++) takes the promise of The Left Hand of God and fulfills it in a more complex book with all the world building that was only hinted there, but keeping the narrative switches and the many twists, while the trilogy finale is something I really want asap...

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