A young Hungarian woman prepares to fend off Hitler (and his army of Nazi werewolves) in this busy supernatural thriller.
When we meet Magda, the narrator of this first novel in a planned trilogy, it’s the summer of 1939 and she’s living a quiet life in Budapest, working for a vampire in a café. Magda knows her lineage as a witch of the Lazarus clan, but she's only modestly skilled with her powers. She gets an opportunity to improve quickly, though. Her sister, Gisele, is having horrific prophetic visions of the war and Holocaust that will soon consume Europe, and because their Jewish heritage puts their lives in danger they plot not only to make their escape from Hungary but also to do battle against the evil spirits Hitler is marshaling. Doing so requires getting hold of an ancient book, The Book of the Angel Raziel, and keeping it out of the Nazi’s hands, though the power contained in the book isn’t entirely clear. This novel is largely a travelogue of Magda’s journey across Europe to find the book, and through the astral plane as well: Devoured by a pack of SS werewolves, she’s sent to heaven, but capable of returning if she so chooses. That flexibility plays into the theme of free will with which Lang infuses the story, as Magda confronts spirits, family members and soldiers on both sides of the imminent war. That gives the novel some philosophical heft but relatively little action, and the codes of conduct in Lang’s spiritual world sometimes seem arbitrary. Firm prohibitions against calling on certain spirits, for instance, prove to be toothless, and it’s not clear what harm, if any, death brings. The book is enlivened by a couple of entertaining cameos by war photographer Robert Capa and from Hitler himself, accompanied by his “paramour, the werebitch Eva Braun,” but the story culminates in a battle that resolves little.
The World War II setting and supernatural cast are promising, but a great deal of the narrative feels like place-setting for the next installment.