Written by Paul Hoffman, who’s gone on to write sequels, though I doubt I’ll read them, this novel is set in an alternate universe Europe (It’s unclear exactly where, and the lack of a map is one of my gripes with the book) during (something like) the middle ages. Things diverged sometime before the death of Christ. Now, instead of a crucified redeemer there is a hanged one, and the monotheistic religion that dominates Europe follows this hanged redeemer. The story begins in a gigantic bastion of warrior monks who are engaged in a vicious religious war with neighbours to the east. Frankly, these monks (‘Redeemers’) are not the most sympathetic. In fact, they’re pretty one-dimensionally evil.
The protagonist is a teen ubermensch in the vein of Orson Scott Card’s Ender. He was conked on the head as a child and now has the ability to read people’s movements preternaturally quickly. This, combined with the monks’ harsh and martial-orientated upbringing have turned him into something of a killing machine. He’s also a strategic/tactical genius. The monks consider him something of a chosen one.
When he escapes (with two loyal-ish comrades and a useless girl) the monks go to extreme lengths to get him back. He somehow lucks into a relationship with noble-types in the powerful city state to the south where he quickly rises in status, ending up in bed with the local princess equivalent.
The book ends clearly leading into a second installment. Pros – a very easy read and fairly engaging. It has a decent sense of humour throughout and the descriptions of the more depraved activities of the Redeemers is pleasingly dark. Cons – predictable and pretty weak characterisation. The actions and personalities of the 3 boys don’t convince as having emerged from the dire circumstances of their upbringing. The women in the book are truly awful – pathetic and passive and described primarily by physical characteristics (one is a ‘swan’, the other is a ‘dove’…).
Awesome title though.