Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2317-0
Lady Lazarus is the first book in a new series set in an alternate version of Earth during 1939. Naturally, this is an alternate Earth with witches, werewolves, vampires, and all the ooh-la-la.
Magduska “Magda” Lazarus lives with her sister Gisele and her friend Eva in Budapest. Magda is a Lazarus witch, someone who can return from death, while Gisele can receive glimpses of the future. In this story, Magda serves as the reluctant PA of sorts to the local vampire when her sister sees death and destruction that will be wrecked by the Nazi armies of Adolf Hitler in the near future. As Gisele and Magda are Jewish, Gisele’s visions of concentration camps are… sobering, to say the least. Magda ends up taking an adventure on her own to Amsterdam, heading out to seek the fabled Book of the Angel Raziel and prevent its contents from falling into the hands of the Nazis. She is aided by Raziel himself, but whether they are enough to withstand the werewolf army and evil sorcerers of the Nazi, that remains to be seen.
Lady Lazarus is told from Magda’s point of view, and this is a problem, because Magda is a heroine that is hard to figure out. She is all over the place. I could have banged my head against the wall, I tell you, when on page 194 – more than halfway through the story, after Magda has embarked on her quest that her sister guilt-tripped her into – Magda tells Eva that she has problems believing Gisele’s visions. Magda charges into all situations in this story without thinking, which makes it very hard for me to view her as anything but an impetuous, hot-headed, but pretty stupid heroine. Were not for her ability to come back from death, this story would have ended quickly as she dies in this story not once, not twice, but thrice. Or is it four times? That’s not counting the times when Raziel or some other secondary character saves her or steers her from a blatantly suicidal and stupid course of action.
Of course, you can argue that being a Lazarus witch allows Magda a free ticket to charge stupidly into a situation and then waits for death when she realizes how helpless she is in that situation – which is pretty much her modus operadi in this story. Even so, no matter how I look at it, a heroine who charges at danger, dies, comes back, and charges back again at danger, dies… repeat and rinse – that doesn’t make a very interesting story. It also doesn’t help that Magda often gives me the impression that she is probably not completely functional upstairs. My favorite scene is the one where she, upon seeing the HQ of Adolf Hitler for the first time, asks a secondary character whether that place would be heavily guarded. No, of course not, surely!
It is hard to appreciate Lady Lazarus because, in the end, I don’t feel that the heroine deserves to survive to the last page. Were not for the secondary characters and Raziel, she would be long be lost because she is really out of her depths in this story. But since it is a law for heroines in stories of this kind to be sarcastic and sharp, she does so with gusto, and there is nothing more awkward to read than a heroine so full of hot air even as she demonstrates very little competence to back up her attitude. I’m told of how amazing Magda is by various secondary characters and even Raziel falls in love with her, but honestly, all I see is a silly brat with very little control over her emotions.
Were this series released in mass market paperback format, I may be tempted to continue with this series just to see how things turn out. I don’t get that many WW2 stories of the paranormal kind, after all. But frankly, $14.99 a book is too high a price for me to pay in order to see whether the author succeeds in turning Magda into anything more than a one-dimensional brat with informed abilities in future books. There are many other books I’d like to read.