Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Last Four Things

by Paul Hoffman


Real history is full of horrors. But it takes the meticulous research and great writing that's gone into a work of fiction like The Last Four Things to allow us to appreciate the full extent of the past's frightfulness. The book is set in a world much like our own around the time of the Renaissance, with a somewhat altered geography and history. But the parts that seem fictional, the scenes that seem too outlandish or bloody or insane to be true? They're actually the parts taken from history, and not the author's embellishments.

This is the sequel to The Left Hand of God and it begins with Thomas Cale back in the hands of the Redeemers. But instead of facing execution at their hands, they regard him as a kind of deliverer. His former mentor Bosco is convinced Cale is the Angel of Death. Bosco expects Cale to lead armies and to bring about the destruction of mankind so that God can start over.

Cale has his own ideas about his place in the world, but he's obliged to play along with the religious ideas in order to survive. He's becoming the object of a powerful belief, but what effect will this have on the young man?

Bosco is busy scheming in order to consolidate his power and fend off his enemies, and his plans are increasingly audacious, bordering on lunatic. How far will he go, and how much bloodletting will he get away with before he is stopped? This novel is at least as bloodthirsty and dramatic as the previous one, full of dizzying reversals of fortune and hideous cruelties.

While Cade builds up his reputation as a holy fiend and tries to stay alive, his friends Kleist and Vague Henri are separated from him. Kleist falls in with a group of mountain people who specialise in cowardly tactics and an almost absolute lack of honour. It's a clash of culture, and these are some of the funniest parts of the story, particularly when Kleist reveals his utter cluelessness with regard to women.

However Kleist is very experienced when it comes to warfare, and he teaches his adopted people a thing or two about tactics and using a bow. With Kleist and Cale both heavily involved in fighting battles this novel is soon grisly with gore. The pitched battles and other kinds of killings happen with a grim regularity. But as well as a slick flow of action the story also has all of the detail and nuance that makes it come alive. The medical treatment of Cale's world is described in fascinating detail, for instance, and the heretical creations of the inventor Hooke seem equally authentic. Perhaps the biggest and most shocking revelation of all, which takes place towards the end, is based on a legend that was widely believed in medieval times. If you want to know what that is, you'll have to read the book.

Cale is preoccupied with thoughts of Arbell, and he's eaten up inside by they idea that she betrayed him. His love has turned to hate, and he keeps imagining creative and awful ways to punish her. But is he really capable of being as monstrous towards her as his reputation suggests? There's a growing tension as he wonders what he will do if he finally catches up with her. In addition to that the story is thick with the expectation of death as Cale and his friends charge from one adventure to the next surrounded by a maelstrom of chaos. The Last Four Things is hugely enjoyable due to its vivid and conflicted characters, its excitement, and its occasional flashes of inspired absurdity. For a fantasy in which so many characters are obsessed with prophecies and the end of the world it's suspiciously lacking in magic, dragons, and the supernatural, but this story has all the right kind of magic.

31st May 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

If you like this, try:

The Enterprise Of Death cover    

The Enterprise Of Death by Jesse Bullington
A story of necromancy, warfare and painting in Renaissance Europe.

The Blade Itself cover    

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
In the first episode of The First Law series some very different characters fight for truth, survival, or simply to look good.

5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson