The first thing that attracted me to this book in our community library was the title and then the cover – I was looking forward to some exciting combination of murder and religion (a bit like Umberto Eco and “The Name Of The Rose”). It also helped that Eoin Colfer, whose work I like, called it “Magnificent”
Hoffman has created a fictional world the historical context for which is approximately biblical. A group of “Redeemers”, somewhere between monks and warriors, are training up “acolytes”, boys who if they survive the training, are to become ruthless soldiers fighting a war against the “Antagonists”, the purpose of which is not quite clear. The boys are often orphans or children whose families are prepared to sell their sons to the Redeemers. So far the war on the Eastern Front is not going well and reinforcements are needed.
Much of the early part of the book is spent detailing the boys education in the “Sanctuary” which is unforgiving and austere conditions in which the boys live. The Redeemers naturally favour somewhat more luxurious conditions for themselves.
The book’s central character is a teenage boy, Thomas Cale, whose future is bound up with the success of the Redeemers. Thomas plans to outwit the Redeemers and escape, which is no easy matter made somewhat harder by the fact that the escape party is finally made up of Thomas, his two friends and a girl. Girls have not featured until now in the boys’ lives…
At times Hoffman’s style put me in mind of Terry Pratchett. For example, “The Guelphs – a people of notoriously ungenerous disposition – have a saying: no good deed goes unpunished. Cale was soon to discover the occasional truth of this miserable proverb.”
Fans of Hoffman will be pleased to know that there is a sequel. I did enjoy this, particularly once the characters were on the run. Perhaps we are meant to feel somewhat ambiguous about Thomas by the end of this book but I felt so ambiguous that I don’t feel the need to read the sequel.
Described by the Daily Express as “A cult classic”, throughout the book there seemed to be clever allusions to our own culture and history. For example, is the “war” the redeemers are fighting World War I? A war that required the unquestioning sacrifice of large numbers of young men. The Redeemers revere statues of the “Hanged Redeemer” and I was wondering if in this twist on a monastic order the hanged redeemer is meant to be Judas? If anyone can add to these speculations that would be great, please get in touch.