Book Review: Dark Victory, by Michele Lang (Spoilers for Lady Lazarus)

It’s been a while since my last review, which was for Lady Lazarus, the first book in Michele Lang’s Lady Lazarus trilogy. I hadn’t finished the other books in the series at that point, and I since have, but for a number of unrelated reasons I wasn’t able to write this review. So here it is now, and I should note that it’s possible that the events of the third book might affect my thoughts of Dark Victory. I will try and not let that knowledge affect things too much, but it will most likely have some impact on my thoughts. And as the title states, there will be spoilers for the first book in the series here. (This review should also be shorter, as it will basically all just be about the book in question, plus there will be less to say about the main characters this time as I’ve already been with them for a book.

So when we last left Magda Lazarus, she had defeated the Nazi wizard Staff, and faced down Asmodel, the demon that Adolf Hitler willingly allowed to posses him. She emerged victorious, and the powerful demon is now trapped inside an empty paprika tin. She also learned more about her power. And finally, Europe is on the brink of war. Stopping it altogether is a lost cause for Magda now, and the German invasion of Poland happens in a similar manner to how it went in real life.

Characters: As mentioned above, there is less to say here than there was last time. Magda, while she’s learned much more about herself and her power, has changed a bit. She now understands that she has a war to fight, and she has grown to better understand her role, and what she has to do. With her initial goal of stopping the war now impossible, she continues to search for the book of Raziel, this time for an ancient gem that has a relationship to the true book and unlocking its true power. The fact that this still pits her against the hated Nazis only further fuels her resolve as she follows the war to Poland within the first third of the book. Later in the book she wrestles with what to do with Asmodel, and struggles with the temptation to try and take his power and use it against her enemies–which could have just as bad results.

Raziel, interestingly enough, has not changed a great deal that I’ve noticed, even though he has technically undergone the greatest change of anyone, having willingly become a ‘fallen angel’, and therefore now just a man and no longer a powerful agent of the Divine. He is still very protective of Magda, and their romance progresses throughout the book. He also remains a more level-headed voice.

A couple of side characters return, including the American Freemason Knox, and Count Bathory. Knox is more or less the same, but Bathory has become more openly involved in world affairs after Nazi-aligned vampires moved against him, he was able to still provide assistance for our heroes when needed (if it was a bit convenient, and not full explained, if I recall correctly).

Several new minor characters were introduced in Dark Victory, and I’ll run through them quickly. First up is the tragic vampire Antinio, a nearly feral vampire who survived longer than expected. Magda and Raziel recruit him early in the book to fly them to Poland. He is a very interesting character, an unusual vampire and an ardent Polish nationalist. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a reason I called him a tragic character. Another new character is Viktor, a Polish Zionist, who works quite a bit with our heroes during their search in Poland, and progresses beyond the simple character he is at first meeting. We also get to meet Winston Churchill, and he’s as awesome here as he was in real life, even if I did question the need for the inclusion of Churchill and England in the story, but I’ll get to that later.

Finally we’ll get to my two favorite side characters, Yankel and Asmodel. Yankel is a very unique play on the ‘wise mentor’ character type, and he really fits with what Michele Lang has built up in the Lady Lazarus books. The character has a lot of aspects drawn from Jewish stories of hidden, extremely righteous men, and he puts forth a feeling of calm strength that really effects even the often cynical Magda. He has a big impact for a character with minimal screen-time, and is a welcome optimistic character in a book full of darkness and pessimistic people (and so it makes sense that he bonds with Gisele, who has also been an optimistic character throughout the series thus far. Asmodel, by contrast, is the epitome of an evil, tempting demon. Despite spending most of his time trapped inside a spice tin, of all things,

Plot: As with the previous book, the plot is fairly simple, which is not a bad things. Most of the book takes place in Poland, under attack and later occupied by the Nazis. There are the little bits in England, which I think are among the weaker parts. I just didn’t see the point of it, apart from getting Winston Churchill into the story and meeting our main characters. Yes, Churchill was awesome, but it just didn’t really fit here, and took away some of the urgency of the coming war. But it really is interesting how few specific plot points there are, while still telling a good story. Once the characters reach Poland, they soon run into the righteous Yankel, who takes Gisele and the captured Asmodel under his protection while Magda. Then she joins a Polish Jewish underground group, which almost directly leads to the climax. (It probably only feels like a few set-pieces because my normal far are long epic fantasies four times the length of this book.) without spoiling the ending of the book, I will say that it was very cleverly done, being a satisfying climax while not overly messing with the overarching war and the history of that war.

The History/The Magic: The magic is expanded upon a bit in this book, both through Magda’s own abilities and the introduction of Yankel, who utilizes ‘magic’ in a much different way from Magda. While her magic is more combat oriented, from summoning spirits to fight for her to firing magical fire to her primary ability to come back from the dead, his is a more spiritual magic. Again, the magic is not a strict system like in other works, so it’s a bit hard to pinpoint exact details to discuss, but it does its job, and never feels ‘cheap’.

As for the history, this book does as well as the last one. The invasion of Poland happens much as it did in real life, as does the initial German occupation that we see. We really get a sense of the hopelessness the Poles felt, most strongly during the scene in the cave. And again, the fact that Hitler is possessed by a demon in no way makes him less of an evil man, as he’s willingly been possessed. I will also commend the book for not altering the flow of history even though it had an easy chance to do so and provide a bit of wish-fulfillment. That danger is handled in a good and unexpected way at the end of the book. The depiction of the Polish resistance movements also feels relatively accurate to me, both in how they work and who makes up the different groups. England is handled well as well, with our characters traveling there pre-blitz, so it’s feasible that they could get there. Again, I find those scenes unimportant and extraneous, but they feel historically accurate.

 

And that about wraps up this long-delayed book review. I hope I’ll be able to do the review of Rebel Angels, the third and final book in the series, much faster. I’ve just about reached my semester stabilization point, where I’m solidly on top of my work. This means more time to devote to this site, as well as writing. Starting a new book soon, and I’d like to make regular posts as I write, chronicling my thoughts as I go.

So until next time (which will hopefully be soon), keep on writing (and reading)!

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