In October 1939, Hitler is possessed by the arch demon Asmodel. Hungarian Jewish witch Magdalena Lazarus, scion of a line dating back to the Witch of Ein Dor, fights to save her people and the world from the brink of the Holocaust. If your definition of “historical” allows you to accept these urban fantastical premises, I have no reservation in recommending this novel. Even a more mundane interest in Jewish mysticism and alchemy should be enough to send you on this deep, engrossing ride, half-spy thriller, half-Thousand and One Nights.
Getting up to speed with this book, the third in a trilogy of which I had not read the previous volumes, presented no problems. The prose goes lickety-split, and yet there is space for some really profound thoughts, as in the best of fantasy. Lazarus and her husband must travel deep into the magical world of the Caucasus. While the Reich works black magic, Stalin’s Russian science seeks to cut magic from the world. The showdown comes at the Battle of Stalingrad, and if your world contains precious little magic, this may be just the antidote.
Lang, of Hungarian Jewish ancestry herself, makes it all plausible by the deftest use of true details – from the Hungarian comfort food Lazarus’s sister feeds her to prove she is dead to the painted white tree trunks, the only night lighting in downtown Baku.