By Russell Kirkpatrick

Cliché. If only it were a compliment shouted among swordsmen, or perhaps a type of perfume from Zoolander. Instead, with Russell Kirkpatrick’s The Right Hand of God, it’s an inevitable adjective simply begging to be used in a cursory appraisal. Does the book have a map at the front? Indeed it does. Three actually – well the man is a qualified geographer. Is it the third book in a trilogy? Yep. Weighty 500 plus page read? Check. Central group of noble misfits, prone to infighting but driven by a purpose greater than themselves? Yes, yes, yes… Thankfully, Kirkpatrick’s world is less Tolkienesque than the wearisome quote on the cover from Trudi Canavan would have you believe. His land is a land of humans, not fey elves or plucky halflings, and these humans have political drives, fragile emotions and a morass of racial and religious differences. And it’s all these factors that, eventually, bootstraps the novel away from being just another fantasy also ran.

      Dictatorial evil is nicely counterbalanced by a less simplistic, less clean-cut approach to the powers of good. As such, the central company of farmers, mystic warriors, philosophers and magicians are uncharacteristically messy and even, in their approach to some of the ‘lesser’ people they meet along their way (the Losian), covertly racists. Ultimately, it’s the growing pains of the central character Leith that engenders a broader sense of tolerance and unity against a greater foe. Here, Kirpatrick could have so easily taken the lazy option. While there is a fair share of Frodo or Eragon about his leading man/boy there’s also something of Elric too thanks to the depiction of the boy’s uneasy relationship with a heavenly relic he’s been elected to carry. The burning arrow controls him, makes him a tool of the gods and yet he resists throughout and attempts to place his mark on a destiny that’s being forced upon him. Again, this simple act of ongoing defiance serves to highlight Kirkpatrick’s desire to do something slightly less obvious within a genre more steeped in tradition than any of its pulp counterparts.

      Yes, the moments where the narrative structure swings from mundane to gripping aren’t as prevalent as you might like, and yes the grouping of the central characters seems overly vast and muddied at times. Stylistically though, there’s enough here to draw you back chapter after chapter. Possibly not the greatest of praise on offer, but testament enough to Kirkpatrick’s skill as a writer.