by Sharon Tucker
& Jeri Westerson
This week we have a review of the final book in Jeri Westerson’s Enchanter Chronicles Triology, along with an interesting guest post by Jeri about some of the Jewish mysticism in the book. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook or audio copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
Library of the Damned: Jeri Westerson’s Steampunk Trilogy Comes to a Close
Review by Sharon Tucker
Steampunk is an eclectic world of cogs and rivets. It is airships, goggles, and steam. It is traveling on clouds and diving beneath rugged waves. It is adventure. —Aether Emporium
Well, I hoped The Enchanter Chronicles wouldn’t end so soon. [Sigh] Anyway, grab your corsets, boot hooks, and helmets to enjoy this last foray into the magical world of Leopold Kazmer, Mingli Zhao, assorted magical-mechanical creatures, plus so many more punkish devices. Enjoy that Library of the Damned (2021) has freshness and a rich atmosphere of fun despite its serious threats and dark, turgid machinations. Prepare to learn too about how Leopold’s religious background is inextricably linked to the heart of all the novels—one of my favorite devices.
Immediately, we meet Leopold Kazmer and Mingli Zhao again just a bit after we left them at the end of Clockwork Gypsy (2020), um, in a clinch. This is even more delightful than the usual consummation for the simple reason that the build-up took two novels and was a much merited reward for them both. Having saved Victorian London and the world from evil domination in The Daemon Device (2019) and dispelled a curse that would have destroyed transportation throughout the land in A Clockwork Gypsy, we now see Leopold and Mingli embark upon an improbable rescue through the auspices of a hellish library. In Library of the Damned we address the issue of Leopold’s missing father as our adventures begin. We have all assumed that Akos Kazmer has been dead for seventeen years, but has Akos been unjustly consigned to Gehenna? If so, the only way to save him will be found in the great library that exists between the worlds of Hell and our own. Finding that proof in the vast collection is one thing but facing the unholy host who have other ideas is quite another. Just wait until you read what forces are called upon to help Leopold and his cohorts in this personal Armageddon. Even so, success is not guaranteed.
I have enjoyed these steampunk adventures, finding innocence in the strangest of places, and really enjoying and gaining new insights from the author’s take on her various characters—living or mechanical, daemon or demon. I’m so glad she has more series for us to read, but I will miss this one.
Gehenna is a Helluva Place
By Jeri Westerson
My stage magician protagonist, Leopold Kazsmer, in the last in my gaslamp fantasy/steampunk adventures, Library of the Damned, is of Jewish/Gypsy blood, and he’s ashamed of that heritage. Neither of those bloodlines was anything to trumpet in Victorian England. But, as the series went on, he learns to have a true appreciation for both.He learned from his father how to summon helpful Jewish daemons in order to perform real magic in which to pepper his stage show. His friend Eurynomos, a terrifying aspect of a beast with tall horns, talons, and wearing nothing but a breechclout, also has a cultured West End accent and is soft-spoken when dealing with his human friend. As Prince of Death, he dwells in Gehenna, a multi-layered afterlife in the Jewish tradition.
But, what is this place that so terrifies Leopold, and where his father—whom he thought dead, his life sacrificed to save Leopold when he was a child—has been trapped these seventeen years?
Gehenna. Originally the word referred to a valley west of Jerusalem because it was the ancient place of pagan sacrifice and eventually became synonymous with evil. In Jewish tradition, there is no Hell as the New Testament describes, a place of eternal torment for dead souls. The rabbis of later periods even decried a place of eternal suffering for a finite life, but Gehenna is described as having five different kinds of fire, including areas of alternating fire and ice. Some passages in Jewish mysticism intimate that the torments of Gehenna will last until the final judgment, while others say that the truly evil will be completely eradicated by the fires into non-existence.
That’s quite a lot of terror and discrepancy for a place only mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) three places: Daniel and I Enoch and II Enoch.
Researching Jewish mysticism for this series was both fascinating and eye-opening. Besides different numbers having grave significance (a form of numerology), there are also certain colors with their own meanings and special words (one might even consider these “magic” words, like “Abracadabra.” It may have its roots in a corruption of Aramaic, ab’ra k’dabra, meaning “I will create according to the word,” but this is not proven by linguists) and much more as part of the pantheon that encompasses the Kabbalah and other books of Jewish mysticism.
The Old Testament is full of such symbolism of numbers, colors, and words. It takes some deep diving into history, languages, and customs to completely appreciate the full meaning of those texts.
I’d always been taught, for instance, that Jews had no Hell, but I suppose that isn’t quite true. Gehenna is quite the Dante’s Inferno. The Talmud (centuries old book written by generations of rabbis explaining and arguing what the text in the Old Testament means) explains that there are levels to Gehenna for specific punishments: Sheol (the Grave, where all souls first end up but not necessarily tormented), Abaddon (Destruction), Beer Shachat (Well of Destruction where the “ten wicked nations” end up, wicked because they refused to acknowledge the Torah), Bor Sh’on (Pit of Turmoil), Tit ha-Yeven (Slurried Clay, where slanderers, heretics, traitors, and bribe-takers go), Domah (Silence), and Tevel (possibly the Earthly Garden of Eden).
But there is also Sitra Achra (the Other Side) that stands as a supporting pillar directly in the middle if you think of the seven layers of Gehenna as a giant tent around it. Sitra Achra is the place from which all evil emanates and all evil goes. And this is the place that Leopold’s father is reportedly trapped.
It’s not easy being a magician with real powers with friendly daemons who hide the truth from you, only to spare your feelings. Of course, there is more to the story than that: the Library of the Damned, a massive, centuries-old archive that exists only in the hinterlands between the worlds; the Unholy Hosts who are fallen Archangels and stir up a Gehenna-full of trouble and are hellbent on Leopold’s destruction; Leopold’s fiancée, the delectable and dependable Miss Mingli Zhao; the ghost of his Scotland Yard Inspector friend; an imp who has changed loyalties from evil to good; a living automaton; and even Queen Victoria herself makes an appearance, ready to defend London against demon hordes; all wrapped up in a steampunky London. Spooky.
To enter to win an ebook or audiobook copy of Library of the Damned, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “library,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 6, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE SURE TO STATE WHICH YOU WANT.
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