Rebecca's Reviews > Lady Lazarus

Lady Lazarus by Michele Lang
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's review
Jul 20, 11

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy
Read in June, 2011

I originally met the author at a con about a year and a half ago. She's a lovely woman, charming, earnest, and kind to newbies. She's done a bunch of self-published e-book romances, I believe, but this was her first book with a publisher.

I wanted to like it, and I think I did. It's a daring little book, trying to use urban fantasy to avert the Holocaust. Anyone who has the climatic scene be a battle against a demon-possessed Hitler has chutzpah to spare. Given how many edges of tastelessness she skirts, I think she pulls it off. The book's respectful. And while many people have picked up the "Nazis as dark wizards" trope before, she does bring some fresh ideas.

The book is hopelessly uneven, though. There's a lot of fascinating ideas that are not quite fully developed. Intriguing characters are likewise underinflated. The tone is exceedingly formal, dancing along the edge of pretentious. I think she stays on the safe side of the line, but others may disagree.

There's just so much unrealized potential here. The magic system is intriguing, but never quite defined enough. She breaks the cardinal rule of magic users--the reader should have a reasonable idea of the strength level of the protagonist. Magda is undertrained, which works really quite well overall. But suddenly, she'll pull out tricks that don't seem to make sense in context of what was previously established. There's a training sequence that's nowhere as well defined as it should be. Other events increase her power in ways that just aren't particularly well explained. I could never tell how much trouble she was in, since she would suddenly have power she previously did not.

Magda and Raziel are well drawn, but many of the other characters never really coalesced for me. Her little sister is particularly difficult to grasp, which is a problem given that Giselle is Magda's motivations. All her reasons for why she should hare off across Europe instead of going into hiding, when all the supernatural help tells her that her quest will make things worse (and are proven correct), seem to be driven by a really immature, whiny girl. Lang was clearly going for a feeling of doomed nobility--she knows what she's doing won't help, but has to try anyway. But it never quite works. Her excuses for why they shouldn't just flee to South America are weak (and she admits this). Her goals end up strengthening the Reich by accident (which she was warned of). She insists she's going because she promised Giselle, but Magda breaks her promises left and right and so I don't see why she can't break this one, too.

The action scenes are well set up, but breeze through the action in a way that's very confusing. I still don't understand how certain key events actually happened. There's a lot of "event happens because author wants it to".

It's an ambitious book with a lot of neat ideas, and it just drips in evocative imagery. Her descriptions of Budapest, Paris, and Amsterdam are deeply immersive. But it feels like some of the work that shows up in my writing group--a great deal of promise, but very unpolished. What was her editor thinking? There's so much here that's problematic--fixable, but it wasn't fixed. I don't know whether I want to read the next book or not. The flaws could be overcome with experience, but only if someone points them out to her. And her editor doesn't seem to have done so on this run.
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