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The Hand of God by Yuval Kordov

Summary:

The world ended—twice. Only Esther, the Eternal One, saw it all happen. As head of the powerful Revenant Sisterhood, she shepherds humanity from Cathedral, the Last City. Except Cathedral isn’t the last city, and her sisterhood’s power is far from holy.

It’s the year 2500, give or take. The passage of time has become as blurry as the gray wastes that cover most of North America. No moon or stars light the night, and demonic hordes smash against the last outposts of civilization.

Two reborn nations vie for humanity’s future. In the west, Cathedral unleashes its God-engines—ancient walking war machines—in a final bid to cleanse the earth. In the east, the struggling city-state of Bastion turns to the last living AI for salvation. Between them, a tribe of technological scavengers unwittingly holds the balance of power.

Hell is on the horizon. Who will survive?

Review:

The Hand of God by Yuval Kordov is wow, just wow. This book might go down as not only the best read of the year (Mount Rushmore 2024, calling it right now), but in my upper echelon of the last ten years, trad and indie SFF alike. I mean it, this book is fantastic. This book is also weird in all the right manners, deep, metaphysical, and a full-on assault on your senses. There is no hand holding here, so be warned, friends.

There are essentially two parts to this story and each are quite different. Prose-wise and trajectory. Part 1 can almost serve as a prequel.

The first 20% follows Esther, a young child surviving after a nuclear holocaust, just wandering the broken land where she grew up, haunted by the loss of her family, especially her younger sister, Miriam (which, damn, way to make us cry, Mr. Kordov). But what makes this opening so powerful is that this young child goes about surviving without a fully functioning adult brain, and the writing style truly makes us feel like we are in the mind of a child going through this horrible new life. It’s not easy to write from a child’s perspective and good gravy, Mr. Kordov did an excellent job. Then, fast forward to near-adult Esther. She’s a recluse, lives in this interesting mech shop with lots of mechanical animals, still has her stuffy, hesitant to interact with other survivors, but reads a lot so knows much of the world. Then we are finally introduced to some very nasty demons from Hell, and before she meets the Eternal One (who she thinks is an angel), Esther is a broken character and we really feel her pain and loneliness. An excellent start to our main protagonist.

Or so we think.

The other 80% fast forwards hundreds of years past a second apocalypse (where Esther is involved but not shown on page…yet) and we spend time with three surviving cities, POV characters from each. In the east, Bastion is this militaristic, uber religious city with strict protocols. Our main POV from Bastion is Phillipe Baptiste, and he is a traumatized soldier. Union is in the middle, and they are essentially scavengers, but they owe tithe to the Cathedral in the west. For Union, we have Sophus, a mechanist. Cathedral is where the Bene Gesserit…sorry, I mean the Revenant Sisters, aka Esther’s superpowered priestesses reside. Rebekah-6 is our main POV in Cathedral and, well, I don’t want to spoil her arc, but it’s really bizarre, really demented, really out there…things be happening in Cathedral. We also have an AI-run battle walker called A11/Aleph. Esther shows up on page for maybe 10pgs at most, but her future form as The Matriarch plays a major source of plot progression. Essentially, the plot of this portion of the book is each city trying to not only survive the demon horde from Hell, but also trying to get more battle walkers.

Tonally, each part is different, and it all starts with the prose. My word, Mr. Kordov has a way with phrasing, and I don’t say this often, but he truly wowed me with his prose. About 35% in, when the survivors of Union and Bastion meet, the Scavrat mechanist, Sophus, notes that he has to listen to every word Bastionite, Baptise, says not just so he can hear what is said, but to also understand its intent. I feel like this is the perfect metaphor to describe Mr. Kordov’s prose. It feels like every word is chosen for a reason. I’m a skim reader, meaning I can skip words in sentences and still grasp the overall meaning, hell, I can even skim paragraphs. I couldn’t do that in THoG. Every time I tried, I ended up having to go back and reread it because I always missed something important. To me, that is the mark of a master wordsmith. You have to read every word so you know not only what is happening, but also the broader intent of worldbuilding. If simple, straightforward prose is your bread and butter, you might have a difficult time with this story because you don’t find that here. You need to be in the zone, so no other distractions to pull you away, lest you get confused and have to start anew.

‘The ravine welcomed her back with open arms. She had barely escaped the smothering thatch the night prior, but tonight a broad path presented an unobstructed route down to the creek bed. A familiar polyphonic moaning beckoned her forward, slipping elusively like contrails between the outstretched branches of the aspen.

She hesitated, feeling the real world fatigue around her. It juddered with each inhale, like a corrupted digital recording, her visual frame rate lagging behind the sweep of her gaze. The with each exhale, it spooled back up, recentering her doubled vision on the path upon which she now walked.

The mashed-together moans gained fidelity as she approached, segregating into a symphony of human voices: male, female, adult, and child. They alternately whispered, groaned, and wailed, beseeching her with unintelligible pleas. The only constant within their cacophony of lust and despair was an underlying tone of immeasurable suffering.’

Talk about crafting a vivid scene touching all the senses, giving us raw emotion. Clearly Mr. Kordov has a gift!

Another interesting facet I enjoyed were the demons of Hell. Sure they were sometimes described as chitinous carapaces with many legs or tentacles resembling the tongues of a graboid, but mostly, these demons were rather vaguely described. Heck, one point in the story, Baptiste goes meta during a horde invasion and basically says there is no way to fully describe these demons, and honestly, I thought that was brilliant. We don’t need the classical ideal of a demon with wings and pointed horns. I like the idea presented here that these demons are more like entities that try to woo you to join them, so more wailing faces and dismembered hands beckoning you to your doom. I feel like this is much more Dante meets The Odyssey’s sirens.

One thing I did find semi-annoying was the timeline jumping. The A11/Aleph POVs are clearly not linear to the rest of the story because A11 happens 2yrs after the first apocalypse and the Aleph arc is introduced after Baptiste and Sophus first meet at the bunker. It is Aleph who gives certain detail pertaining to said plot. I say this is semi-annoying not because of the timeline jumps themselves but more of me having to think about the actual timeline, like I’m already paying attention to every single word, now this! You just want to hurt my brain, don’t you, Mr. Kordov?!?! I kid, it isn’t that bad.

The Hand of God captivated me right from the first words and left me dangling on a cliffhanger at the end. I can’t wait to dive into book two knowing that the conclusion will be released sometime this year. Can’t recommend this book enough! Also, Mr. Kordov and his children do a lot of Lego building and he’s done quite a few battle walkers!

Get The Hand of God here

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