From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—This novel of speculative fiction, the first of a trilogy, will be hard for readers to put down. Fourteen-year-old Thomas Cale is an acolyte of the Redeemers, struggling, like other boys his age and younger, to live up to the harsh standards of the Sanctuary. When he is sent to the Lord of Discipline for a minor infraction, he stumbles on a scene of vivisection and kills the Redeemer in his effort to save the victims. He flees with two other boys, Vague Henri and Kleist, and the girl that he has rescued, Riba. The four make their way to Memphis, capital of the Materazzi empire, and their best hope of safety from the Redeemer's vengeance. Once there, chancellor Vipond finds a use for each of them while seeking to learn more of the mysterious Redeemers in order to prepare for the war with them that he fears is to come. Cale's martial prowess earns him both allies and enemies in the city, whose ways are entirely strange to the boys. Startling revelations and strange reversals continue until the final pages. Hoffman's story includes references to Norwegians, Jews, and Guelphs but without any obvious geographic parallels to Europe. He reinforces the late medieval feeling with the occasional archaic term that may send readers to their dictionaries without sacrificing any of the suspense, romance, or action. This compelling read will be popular with fans of fantasy, action, and military fiction, who will eagerly await the next installment.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
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The remote Sanctuary of the Redeemers is a huge, grim fortress. There boys younger than 10 are taken for intensive training in hand-to-hand combat in preparation for a forthcoming holy war that only the high priests know about. Sixteen-year-old Thomas Cale is one of the thousands of boys who endure unspeakable treatment at the hands of the warrior monks. Sensing something special about Cale, the Lord Militant takes charge of his training, making it extremely harsh and driving him to achieve more and more. When Cale comes across a Redeemer performing a vivisection on a girl, he slays the man, rescues another girl, and realizes that to live he must escape into the outside world. What ensues is a riveting tale of pursuit, derring-do, battles, and death. Unfortunately, some intrusive authorial explanatory asides interrupt the narrative flow. Enigmatic Cale is something of a berserker on his dark side, a protector on his good one. Other principals are credible, and the settings—the foul sanctuary, barren landscape, and aristocratic city to which Cale flees—vivid. A rousing trilogy-opener. --Sally Estes