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Lady Lazarus Paperback – August 31, 2010
*Starred Review* Lang combines historical and urban fantasy to create a parallel world full of witches, vampires, angels, and demons on the eve of WWII. In Budapest, rebellious 20-year-old Magda is the last in the line of powerful Jewish Lazarus witches, but she has resisted her unique magical heritage, spending her time as assistant to one of the city’s leading vampires. Younger sister Gisele may lack the family gift but is still a talented seer, and her visions of coming death and destruction set Magda off on a quest across Europe in the summer of 1939, racing to claim her family’s lost Book of Raziel before it can be seized by the Nazi wizards. Lang even manages to weave in a romance story line as a desperate Magda does the unthinkable and summons the angel Raziel, only to discover he is much more human than anyone thought. By cleverly mixing her fantastical creations into real history, Lang crafts a creative and tense story as all of Europe awaits the September invasion of Poland. Lang is a writer to watch and is sure to have wide appeal to fans of Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, and other urban-fantasy A-listers. An outstanding debut. --Jessica Moyer
“An absolutely unique protagonist in an engaging tale set against the backdrop of the greatest clash of good and evil in human history. What's not to love about Lady Lazarus?” ―Jim Butcher, bestselling author of The Dresden Files series
“With lyrical prose, a fascinating heroine, and a darkly powerful, emotional narrative, Lady Lazarus is simply magic. Intriguing, beautiful, and impossible to put down.” ―Meljean Brook, bestselling author of The Guardians urban fantasy romance series
“This unique story set in Europe in the late 1930s may confuse some readers. However, once you suspend your disbelief, you will not be disappointed. While real-life situations and people are depicted, this retelling of the beginning of World War II with angels and demons has an otherworldly feel that will stretch readers' imaginations. Lang's fantastic tale will have you rooting for the heroine and holding your breath to see if a lone woman and her guardian angel will be able to free an entire continent from evil.
In this supernatural alternate history, Magda Lazarus, a young Jewish witch, must try to stop the Nazis from taking over Europe. To halt Hitler's scourge, Magda must reach the magical Book of Raziel, however her mission becomes complicated when evil witches, demons and werewolves also start searching for the angelically written text. These dark, supernatural beings are assured of victory, but they fail to foresee the strength and determination of one woman who can travel through death and back and refuses to see her people destroyed” ―RT Book Reviews (Four Stars)
“In this supernatural alternate history, Magda Lazarus, a young Jewish witch, must try to stop the Nazis from taking over Europe. To halt Hitler's scourge, Magda must reach the magical Book of Raziel, however her mission becomes complicated when evil witches, demons and werewolves also start searching for the angelically written text. These dark, supernatural beings are assured of victory, but they fail to foresee the strength and determination of one woman who can travel through death and back and refuses to see her people destroyed.” ―RT Book Reviews (Four Stars)
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Perhaps Lang's most controversial decision is that Hitler is in league with, and sometimes possessed by, a demon. Some readers may see this as a cop-out. In my opinion, though, Lang wrote this in the only way that isn't a cop-out. Namely, Hitler is the master, not the servant, in the relationship. Lang doesn't use the demon to absolve Hitler of anything; this is no "the devil made him do it" scenario. It's clear that he'd be just as evil without supernatural help and is simply using the demon as an additional tool in gaining power. And the real-life Hitler was interested in the occult, so to me it's believable that he'd have tried something like this if it had been possible.
The title refers to the novel's heroine, Magda Lazarus, who is doubly in danger in this increasingly intolerant Europe: she is both Jewish and a witch. Specifically, she is a Lazarus witch, which means that she has the ability to return from the dead under certain circumstances. As Lady Lazarus begins, she learns of the dire fate awaiting her people. She resolves to find the long-lost Book of Raziel in order to save both the world and her own small household, consisting of her fragile, prophetic sister and her non-magical ingenue best friend. Magda is a heroine who isn't always wise and isn't always nice, but commands admiration in her willingness to risk not just death but damnation to thwart Hitler's plans. Also compelling is the plight of the angel Raziel, who wants to protect Magda but is constrained by divine laws regarding human free will, and increasingly chafes at these restraints as he becomes more attached to her.
Lady Lazarus has plenty of action but often strikes an elegiac tone rather than that of a thriller. Magda narrates the events of 1939, but is writing them down in the year 1945, and she strongly implies that not all of her loved ones will survive to the end of the series. She mourns a lost world, too, in the form of the cafes of Budapest. Lang paints an elegant setting, embellished with curls of coffee-steam and cigarette smoke, that would be right at home in an old movie; in fact, I realized at several points that I was picturing people and places in black and white. It wasn't for lack of vivid description -- quite the contrary! -- but because it fit the mood Lang evokes. This elegant world is dying as the Third Reich advances, and we keenly feel its loss along with Magda.
The novel has a few issues. Several scenes feel summarized rather than fully shown and might have been stronger if they'd been more fleshed out; the demonesses' attack on Magda and her training at the hands of Lucretia de Merode are two examples. It's also sometimes hard to grasp the magical rules, as in why a type of magic will work in this situation but not in that one. More elaboration on Lucretia's lessons would have helped with that too, come to think of it.
To Lang's credit, however, these problems feel like minor rather than major annoyances. I noticed them in passing, but on the whole was utterly engrossed in Magda's adventures and couldn't stop reading about her or thinking about her. The publisher's blurb comparing Lady Lazarus to a blend of Twilight, Dresden Files, and True Blood misses the mark; it's completely unlike those. If I were to place Lady Lazarus at the intersection of three other books, I might choose Katherine Kurtz's Lammas Night (for its theme of witches vs. Hitler); Annmarie Banks's The Hermetica of Elysium (Elysium Texts Series) (for its plot centering on a woman traveling through hostile territory, seeking a book, and learning to wield magical power); and a little bit of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone (mostly for its Eastern European bohemian cafe atmosphere and maybe for the angel romance, though it's a very different angel romance).
Lang's supplemental guide, The World of Lady Lazarus, elaborates more on the real history and mythology behind some of her tweaks and on her decision to write about this "third rail" topic. It can be found at Smashwords or for Kindle, and is a fascinating read. Magda's story continues in Dark Victory.
I got tired of Magda being clueless of everything. Why, oh why, are heroines always ignorant of themselves, their power, their ability, their strengths? I am just tire, TIRED of this being the kernel at the centre of just about every book I read that has a female lead. Why?
I thought the book dragged in places. The reader spends a lot of time in Magda's head or traveling. After being clueless and not knowing what to do Magda always seemed to defeat her enemy with ease and I was never entirely sure how she managed it. This feeling of ho-hum another one done is only exasperated by the fact that the book ends on the eve of Hitler's attack on Poland, so the whole thing kind of wraps up where I thought it was going to begin. And lastly, I thought there were an uncomfortable number of characters that showed up when needed and then just disappeared again.
So, I'm about balanced between those things I really liked and those things that annoyed me.
Note: borrowed from the library
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