fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Michele Lang Lady LazarusLady Lazarus by Michele Lang

Lady Lazarus by Michele Lang is a historical fantasy set just before the beginning of World War II, in a slightly skewed version of our world. What makes it skewed is that in this alternate history, magic exists and plays a major role in world events. For example, Hitler’s werewolves are literal here.

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 (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.

Lady Lazarus — (2010-2013) Publisher: With the romance of Twilight, the suspense of THE DRESDEN FILES, and the delicious thrills of True Blood, the enthralling saga of Magdalena Lazarus unfolds. Descended from the legendary witch of Ein Dor, she alone holds the power to summon the angel Raziel and stop Hitler and his supernatural minions from unleashing total war in Europe. The Nazis have fighters more fearsome than soldiers, weapons more terrifying than missiles, and allies that even they are afraid of SS werewolves; the demon Asmodel who possesses a willing Adolf Hitler, and other supernatural creatures all are literally hell-bent on preventing Magda from possessing the Book of Raziel, a magical text with the power to turn the tide against Hitler’s vast war machine. Magda, young and rebellious, grew up in the cosmopolitan city of Budapest, unaware of her family’s heritage. When her mother dies, Magda — ready or not — is the Lazarus, who must face the evil that holds Europe in an iron grip. Unready to assume the mantle of her ancient birthright, but knowing that she must fight, she sets out across Europe searching for the Book. Magda is desperate enough to endanger her soul by summoning the avenging angelRaziel. When she sees him in the glory of his celestial presence, her heart is utterly, completely lost…

Michele Lang fantasy book reviews Lady LazarusMichele Lang fantasy book reviews Lady Lazarus 2. Dark VictoryMichele Lang fantasy book reviews Lady Lazarus 2. Dark Victory 3. Rebel Angelsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviews


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.