HebrewPunk (2007) is a collection of four short stories by Lavie Tidhar. The stories all feature a cast of supernatural Jewish heroes - drawn from Hebrew mythology and literary lore. Lest that specialist focus sound dry and un-entertaining, don't let the concept scare you: HebrewPunk is a fun and (mostly) accessible collection of catchy alternate history.
The volume's opening story, "The Heist", sets up the collection nicely. First published in 2005, "The Heist" is a streamlined, occult version of Ocean's Eleven. Some folks need to break into a highly-defended blood bank, so they call "The Rabbi" - the ultimate macher (Yiddish for "fixer" or "schemer"). The Rabbi makes a few calls of his own - Jimmy the Rat (Vampire), The Tzaddik (formerly one of the 36 Tzaddikim that preserve the order of the world) and Goldie (his pet golem). This foursome needs to pull off the theft of the century - breaking through the bank's defenses (natural and supernatural) and making off with the prize.
Of the four stories, "The Heist" is the most fun and, arguably, the least cerebral - mostly because the style Mr. Tidhar has chosen to pastiche is that of the accessible, action-packed adventure. The four heroes do their thing, patter some patter and charismatically ooze their way towards the conclusion.
The second story, "Transylvania Mission", was first published in 2004 and stars Jimmy the Rat. Jimmy is hiding deep in the hills of Romania during World War 2. He's allied with a group of local partisans, who carefully do their best to ignore Jimmy's vampirism. They all have worse things to worry about. In this story, the fiendish Doctor Mengele brings some of his elite Werewolf Corps to the region in the hopes of raising the spirit of Dracula.Read more ›
"The Heist" is an excellent theme setter for this collection. This story has an urban fantasy flavor, only instead of the default setting of the world being based in nature worship-style paganism or Christianity the magic comes from a very distinct Jewish flavor.
Jimmy the Rat (a Jewish vampire), The Tzaddick (an immortal), The Rabbi (a powerful Jewish mystic) and his wickedly constructed golem Goldie come together to take down a mysterious and magical blood bank. Along the way they encounter peculiar versions of zombies and angels and a fortress that will boggle readers with its incredible level of security. It's the motley crew's job to break the fortress, to take down the blood bank and of course, collect their fee.
From there HebrewPunk moves to stories focusing on the trio individually.
"Transylvania Mission" pits The Rat against a band of Nazi werewolves searching for Dracula in the hopes of enlisting his help in their war. More could be said, but that, and awesome, sums up this tale.
"Uganda" mixes the Jewish flavor with distinct African ingredients. In this tale it's the turn of the century and The Rabbi is asked to investigate a tract of land in Eastern Africa which some people hope will become a new Jewish Homeland. Recognized as a mystic by a local tribe, he walks with them, getting a glimpse into the truth of the land, and possibly even the future. While this is a solid, interesting and richly flavored tale it feels unfinished at the end, perhaps because it's written as if compiled by a third party from multiple sources, a style that lends better to longer works.
Finally comes The Tzaddick in "The Dope Fiend", a 1920s set tale of voodoo and ghosts and how they surface in the Jewish mythos.Read more ›
Combining Jewish mysticism with pulp adventure, HebrewPunk makes for a thrilling ride. The introductory story introduces you to the main characters, with each subsequent story telling you an episode in the life of that character. First you have The Rabbi, a kabbalist with a Golem for a side kick. Then there is Jimmy the Rat, a Jewish vampire with no problems with crosses but an allergy to gold. Finally there is the Tzaddik, an immortal with special gifts. This collection is by FAR worth the price. It is one of the best things I've read this year. My favorite story from the collection is Uganda, featuring a trip into the deepest dark of Africa of the early 1900s. The Rabbi's journey is atmospheric enough to rival any other Heart of Darkness.