Review: “Lady Lazarus”
It has been documented that the first word a child learns to utter is, most commonly, “no”. Michele Lang’s historical urban dark fantasy, Lady Lazarus (Tor, trade Sept. 2010 $14.99, mass market June 2011 $7.99), and her heroine Magda make a fine art of “no” that turns into a resounding “yes” on the eve of WWII (up to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Sept. 1st, 1933 and the Hitler-Stalin pact), from the cafes of Buda-Pest through Austria, Germany, and Paris, to the booksellers and brothels of Amsterdam and back again. The first installment of the story, this book is as good as it gets. You cannot guess where she will take you, even in the historical bits but, once Lang gets there, it is perfectly logical and believable, even at its most outrageous.
Why? Because Lang has done her history, theology, and Bible homework and Knows her Kabbalah in a way that even some whiskery old masters do not. And she makes you believe. Even her undead, demonic, and angelic characters are utterly human and thus you are compelled to watch this tragic train-wreck of a story (after all, we know the atrocities of WWII) that is not without the insanity of hope. Her prose sings—even in her English translations the music of the German, Hungarian, Hebrew, and Aramaic remains. Amidst all the darkness, the light shines, even in some romance with an angel, Raziel (Secrets of God), whose description really is like that of a Greek god (trust me, I know one…wink). But no clichés, here, and no punches pulled, ever—no flinching. People suffer exquisitely for what they believe in, to save their way of life, their people (Jews, witches, vampires, demonesses). Lang tortures her characters in ways unimagined by those not acquainted with the depths of the mystical lore in all its facets, beautiful and horrifying. All to a purpose.
Imagine a world where the daughters of men perpetuate their legacy since primordial times, since Eve, where angels fall for their beliefs, and a line of daughters can return from the dead and work great magics, but always at a great price (and Lang’s word painting is worthy of renderings in movies and graphic novels)? Can you stop a war? Can you stand back and not even try—hide or run? The entire story hinges on the last two lines of the book: “Who do you love? Do you seek the darkness or the light?” Only, once you read this, and I dare you to be unaffected by it, your definitions of dark and light may not remain so neat and tidy. Sweet dreams. Call on your guardian angels. They will come. They are real.