Second installment of Hoffman's bleak, ultra-violent pseudo-medieval trilogy, following The Left Hand of God (2010).
Redeemer General Bosco deems tormented boy-warrior Thomas Cale the Angel of Death, a suitable tool to help Bosco conquer the world, wipe out humanity and thus redeem it. Cale accepts the role, part of which involves a scheme to make Bosco the successor to the ailing Pope, despite numerous better-placed rivals. Scorning the brainwashed child-rabble that serves as the Redeemer army, Bosco helps Cale form a small but far more thoughtful and accomplished cadre of troops. After a few demonstrations of Cale's berserker skills, these Purgators believe in Cale utterly. One of them even invents gunpowder. Despite Cale's battlefield victories, the Redeemers still have powerful enemies, most consequentially the Laconics, who employ highly trained pederast mercenaries; Cale's engagement with them, the book's most significant battle, reenacts one that actually occurred during the Boer War. Beautiful Arbell Materazzi, Cale's lover and betrayer, complicates matters. Of Cale's former companions, Kleist enjoys adventures of his own, while Vague Henri eventually turns up accompanied by much jolly banter. Plotwise, that's about it. This time, the tone is predominantly grumpy. Hoffman continues to throw in random geographic references, mostly for comic relief (Spanish Leeds, for example, is in Switzerland). For the rest, readers will observe the erudite advantages conferred by an Oxford education, while the gnarled chunks of verbatim theology can only be interpreted as the author's grim attempt to manage the rage engendered by an overly zealous religious upbringing.
Less a novel than a fictionalized dissertation on angst.