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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan…

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (2009)

by Jonathan L. Howard

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
916539,587 (3.95)92
  1. 41
    Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett (TracyRowan)
    TracyRowan: Recommended for those who like their horror blended with a lively sense of the absurd.
  2. 10
    The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss (asukamaxwell, SomeGuyInVirginia)
    SomeGuyInVirginia: Agreeably horrific gaspers.
  3. 00
    This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It by David Wong (SomeGuyInVirginia)
  4. 11
    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (jlparent)
    jlparent: Howard himself says Bradbury's book spurred the question - where do dark carnivals come from - so check out one of the best books ever (Something Wicked This Way Comes)!
  5. 00
    Hell! Said the Duchess by Michael Arlen (SomeGuyInVirginia)
  6. 00
    Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician: A Novel by Daniel Wallace (artificialbunny)
  7. 01
    The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Anonymous user)
  8. 01
    Majestrum by Matthew Hughes (BobNolin)

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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
Interesting concept and narrative structure, but I'm not sure the writer was able to pull it off. The book reads a bit as a twisted satire of the urban fantasy genre, specifically Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. The protagonist, Johannas Cabal, is an anti-hero, and a somewhat crazy one at that. He's a necromancer who has become obsessed with raising the dead not as zombies or Frankenstein, but as the person was when they were actually alive. He is willing to do anything to accomplish his aim - he does not care. So he makes a deal with Satan, in exchange for his soul, Satan will give him the knowledge he needs. Only to realize that his experiments aren't working - because he sort of needs his soul to make them work or figure out why they don't work. Frustrated, Cabal goes back to Satan and requests his soul back. Satan agrees in return for 100 souls by the end of one year. Satan will even provide Cabal with the means necessary to acquire the souls - a traveling carnival. Cabal picks up his brother from a local graveyard, to aid him in his endeavor. His brother is a vampire.

The book meanders. It's more a series of vignettes strung together over a central plot. With the point of view constantly shifting amongst various supporting characters. It reminds me a little bit of Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett's Good Omens in how it is structured and the irreverent sense of humor. But not quite as deft.

I figured out somewhat early on why Cabal was doing it. The writer drops multiple anvils throughout his story. The twist...I also more or less saw coming, but it was less obvious and somewhat clever.

Overall it's an okay read, but the characters didn't grab me, and I found myself plodding through most of it. The next book in the series, I've heard, is better -- but I'm not sure I care about Cabal enough to continue.

( )
  cmlloyd67 | Jun 7, 2015 |
Very well written, but the tone is something you will either love or hate. Unfortunately, it's not my thing, but I'm sure others will love this. ( )
  StaticBlaq | Apr 26, 2015 |
Yes, but Kindle. Seems like he's trying to hard but we'll see.
  Xleptodactylous | Apr 7, 2015 |
I loved this book. I loved this book. I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Maybe it comes from the fact I had just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I needed something light and entertaining, or maybe it comes from the fact Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer is one sprightly and wickedly funny piece of fiction.

I'll go with Option B.

The novel follows the smarmy and sarcastic Johannes Cabal, who sold his soul to the Devil some years previously in order to gain the knowledge of necromancy. Now he wants his soul back, so upon a visit to Hell, he strikes a second deal with the Lord of Fire and Brimstone: secure 100 souls for Satan in one year, and he'll get his own in return. To aid Johannes on his quest, Satan allows Cabal the use of his own twisted carnival, which features a seductress made entirely of latex, a ghost train full of, you know, real ghosts, and penny arcades that teach you rather amoral ways to solve your worst problems. Oh, and by the way, the train is driven by two walking corpses rotting right in front of your eyes. Johannes, having no clue how to manage a carnival, enlists the help of his brother, Horst, a vampire he locked in a crypt several years before, and hilarity ensues as the two embark on the journey to save Johannes from eternal damnation.

Hilarity literally ensues. I find sarcastic humor the best, and I just relished all of the wisecracks and cutting remarks that fly around this book like the Wicked Witch of the West's army of monkeys. I loved that this book didn't take itself too seriously - Satan is one lackadaisical fallen angel - but at the same time, employed some real creativity in the supernatural elements. For example, the Cabal Brothers' carnival train pulls into a station one day that looked bright, shiny, and new, and was manned by a cheery and eager stationmaster. Turns out that station had actually burned down several years before, and the stationmaster had committed suicide. Huh! How did the station suddenly reappear and the station master suddenly re-emerge? Well, I'll leave that to you to find out.

But through all the smarminess and wisecracking humor, there is a heart as well. Can Johannes really
condemn 100 people to an eternity of torment just to save his own soul? Especially the enchanting Leonie Barrow who makes Cabal's heart pitter patter? And what happens when Johannes starts forcing true innocents to commit heinous acts so their souls are his for the taking? It is a fun and glorious read. I am anxious to continue the series with Johannes Cabal: The Detective. ( )
  parhamj | Nov 16, 2014 |
Ever been to a traveling carnival? Was it a fun experience? For me, clowns are creepy and after two hours of all the noise, activity, flashing lights, crush of crowds and the excess consumption of fat and sugar-laden carnival foods, I am anything but the picture of someone having fun. Even though I don't like going to carnivals in real life, I do like them as part of a story and I really enjoyed Howard's debut novel. Howard presents such a wonderful, darkly comic carnival experience. This is NOT like Morgenstern's The Night Circus, for all of you who may be wondering about that. We are talking apples and oranges here. As for Johannes Cabal, what a fantastic character! Yes, he is rude, arrogant, obnoxious and has no moral compass - WHATSOEVER - but anyone that has the balls to march up to the gates of Hell without an appointment, thumbs his nose at the bureaucratic red tape in place to stop him or anyone else and proceeds to demand to speak to Satan, NOW, while looking disdainfully over the rims of his blue-lens sunglasses.... Well, one can't help but respect that kind of gumption. The dry, sarcastic one-liners that zing off the pages - or in my case, zinged through my ears - really go a long way in turning what could have be a macabre horror story into an entertaining black comedy. Horror - No. Comedy - Yes. The first chapter or two were full of witty repartee and biting digs at the underworld and bureaucracy in general. Great stuff! If only Howard had been able to maintain the same level of creative and engaging writing the story starts out with, this would have been one of my best reads in a long, loooong time. As it is, it was still a very solid and engaging read for me, even with the slower bits.

I listened to the audiobook as narrated by Christopher Cazenove and I have say Cazenove did a fantastic, pitch perfect job as the voice of Johannes Cabal and the rest of the cast of characters. Mr. Bones being another favorite character he captured beautifully. Johannes brother Horst is the perfect foil to balance out Johannes 'deficiencies'. Not that I would want to encounter any of them in a dark alleyway or anything but they are fun characters to read. If you ever thought operating a traveling carnival would be fun and hassle-free, Howard's book and the various situations Cabal and the carnival find themselves in will, if anything, make you think that Satan probably isn't who you want as a business partner, wager or no wager.

Overall, this was the perfect change of pace I needed. While the story won't appeal to all readers, if you like dark comedies, don't mind stories with a bit of contractual soul-stealing and like stories that blend horror with humor, necromancy with magic and evil versus... well.... evil, this may appeal to you. I should probably mention that the book ends with a bit of a 'reveal' - a teaser to entice one to move on to Johannes Cabal the Detective, book two in the series - which worked on me: I already have book two ready to go.

Footnote: This book has been tagged by a number of LT readers as being steampunk but no, I don't think just because the carnival train is potentially powered by a steam engine counts this one as steampunk read, IMO. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | May 4, 2014 |
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A Clock stopped -

Not the Mantel's -

Geneva's farthest skill -

Can't put the puppet bowing -

That just now dangled still -

Emily Dickinson
For Noel and Enid Howard
First words
Walpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. The last night of April. The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.
“It's a philosophical minefield!" Cabal had a brief mental image of Aristotle walking halfway across an open field before unexpectedly disappearing in a fireball. Descartes and Nietzsche looked on appalled. He pulled himself together.
The Mayor of Murslaugh was a jolly, ebullient man of the sort who, in a well-ordered world, would be called Fezziwig. That his name was Brown was a powerful indictment on the sorry state of things.
"I am Satan, also called Lucifer the Light Bearer..."
Cabal winced. What was it about devils that they always had to give you their whole family history?
"I was cast down from the presence of God himself into this dark, sulfurous pit and condemned to spend eternity
"Have you tried saying sorry?" interrupted Cabal.
"No, I haven't! I was sent down for a sin of pride. It rather undermines my position if I say 'sorry'!”
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767930762, Paperback)

Book Description
In this uproarious and clever debut, it’s time to give the Devil his due.

Johannes Cabal, a brilliant scientist and notorious snob, is single-mindedly obsessed in heart and soul with raising the dead. Well, perhaps not soul... He hastily sold his years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. But now, tormented by a dark secret, he travels to the fiery pits of Hell to retrieve it. Satan, who is incredibly bored these days, proposes a little wager: Johannes has one year to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever.

To make the bet even more interesting, Satan throws in that diabolical engine of deceit, seduction, and corruption known as a “traveling circus” to aid in the evil bidding. What better place exists to rob poor sad saps of their souls than the traveling carnivals historically run by hucksters and legendary con men?

With little time to lose, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire (an unfortunate side effect of Johannes’s early experiments with necromancy), to be the carnival’s barker. On the road through the pastoral English countryside, this team of reprobates wields their black magic with masterful ease, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

Johannes may have the moral conscience of anthrax, but are his tricks sinful enough to beat the Devil at his own game? You’ll never guess, and that’s a promise!

Brilliantly written and wickedly funny, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer combines the chills and thrills of old-fashioned gothic tales like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the mischievous humor of Wicked, and the sophisticated charms of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and spins the Faustian legend into a fresh, irreverent, and irresistible new adventure.

A Q&A with Jonathan L. Howard

Question: You’ve been working on Johannes Cabal in its various iterations for many years now, how did it feel spending so much time with such nefarious characters?

Jonathan L. Howard: It’s something of a cliché to say that villains are more interesting than heroes, nor is it even very true, so I shan’t be trotting that particular phrase out. I would suggest that it is the inner life of the character that makes them interesting, and that is true of the virtuous as much as the vile. Cabal does some rather horrible things, it is true, but he never does them purely to give himself the opportunity to curl his waxed moustache—he’s clean-shaven, for one thing—and declaim his wickedness. He always has a reason, and it’s usually a good one. I find fictional villains who are evil because they are evil unengaging. Cabal, on the other hand, has motivations and drives that most can sympathise with, even if the actions he commits based on those drives can be loathsome. For him, the ends always justify the means, and damn the consequences.

Question: The carnival in your book is used as a device for collecting souls; was there a real life inspiration for the carnival? Do you find there to be something generally sinister about carnivals?

Jonathan L. Howard: There’s no real life inspiration for the carnival, really, but plenty in fiction. The obvious inspiration was Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a deserved classic. I liked the Disney film version, too, and dearly wish that its original incarnation as a screenplay in the fifties produced by Gene Kelly—Gene Kelly!—had come to fruition. Something Wicked’s Cooger & Dark’s Carnival wasn’t the first threatening carnival in fiction, and it certainly wasn’t the last, but it is probably the best. It was the persnickety question of where such a carnival might come from and how anybody would end up as a proprietor that inspired my novel.

As for how sinister they are, that is to an extent a fictional conceit on my part too. You have to bear in mind that carnivals like that are unknown in the United Kingdom, and I haven’t heard of the traditional British travelling fair being transported by train either. The Cabal stories take place in a slightly blurry world where things come together because they aesthetically appeal to me, and not because they’re historically accurate; a magical realism of sorts. I wanted an American-style carnival travelling by train, and that’s what I got. That said, there are plenty of permanent fairgrounds around the country, and they tended to have a slightly creepy air about them. The real Ghost Trains in Blackpool and Porthcawl, for example, inspired the exterior of the Ghost Train in the novel.

Question: In addition to writing you work as a video game designer, how does that work compare to the experience of writing fiction? Are there any surprising similarities?

Jonathan L. Howard: There are definite similarities, but I wouldn’t say that they are surprising. The games I’ve worked on tend to have definite narratives, so it’s exactly the same process of inspiration, development, pacing, and polishing. The main difference is that a novel can have significant sequences in which physically little happens, which is considered heretical in games. In fairness, there’s good reason for that—the player wants to be involved, and there isn’t a great deal of opportunity for that in a scene consisting of two people talking over a cup of tea. That’s not to say it hasn’t been attempted, and pretty successfully. I remember a game a few years ago based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. It hit all its target, being very atmospheric, true to its source, even thought provoking, and all without Pit and the Pendulum platformer or Fall of the House of Usher first person shooter sections. In commercial terms, however, it was never going to be the next Tomb Raider.

Question: Have you always been a fan or horror and supernatural lore? When did this sort of thing first capture your imagination?

Jonathan L. Howard: Yes, I’ve always enjoyed the grotesque and the macabre, right from an early age. I recall that I somehow saw Dana Andrews being chased around the woods by a fireball in Night of the Demon when I was about four or five, and being fascinated. I grew up on a diet of black and white Doctor Who, The Avengers, snatched glimpses of the first few minutes of Out of the Unknown episodes before being sent to bed, and any number of slightly disturbing imports like The Tinderbox and The Singing, Ringing Tree. I remember that I got a book for Christmas sometime in the very early seventies called Stranger Than People, which was basically a young person’s guide to Fortean phenomena, interspersed with stories like "The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait," and Poe’s "Metzengerstein." I loved that book; I read it so many times that the cover fell off.

Question: What sort of research did you do for the book? Was there anything you came across in the process that really surprised you?

Jonathan L. Howard: I actually did very little research for it; it was mostly lurking in my mind already. I can remember little necessary for day to day living, but if you ask me the birth name of Dr. Crippen’s wife, I can tell you off the top of my head. I needed a bit of nomenclature for something or other in the running of a carnival, which a librarian friend found for me, but that was the only real piece of research for it. Even things like the Grand Conjuration to summon a demon—which is an authentic ritual, you may be horrified to hear—was in a book I already had. I have a large collection of books on assorted esoterica to the extent that my wife, a bibliophile herself, rolls her eyes and says, “Not more bloody books?” whenever I come home with a bookshop bag and a sheepish expression.

Question: There is a lot of paperwork in your version of Hell. Did you hold an especially bureaucratic job somewhere before working as a game designer?

Jonathan L. Howard: No, I’m very happy to say. I remember as a child considering the inevitability of growing up and wondering what the worst thing about it would be. It all looked pretty good from that perspective: money, going to bed when you liked, being able to go into any certificate film, and so on. Finally, I spotted a bad point, and that bad point was having to fill in forms. And I was right. There’s just something about completing a form that fills me with dread in its consideration, and depression during its commission. Which reminds me; I have two to fill in this week. Oh, joy.

Question: Johannes is a bit of an anti-hero and his motivations are somewhat mysterious. Do you think that he’s misunderstood by those around him?

Jonathan L. Howard: He’s definitely misunderstood, although if he were understood, it still wouldn’t make him popular. The fact that he’s labeled a necromancer gives him a public relations problem, as the vast majority of them are power hungry lunatics. Cabal’s ultimate aim is to defeat death, and to have the ability to bring people back just as they were when they were alive, physically, mentally, and spiritually. No lurking demonic possessions, no uncouth brain gobbling. His researches in that direction, however, have not been conducted in the most advantageous light.

Question: What’s next for you?

Jonathan L. Howard: I handed in the submission draft of the second Cabal novel Johannes Cabal the Detective just the other week, so that will be going through the editorial process shortly. I also have to decide what the next Cabal novel after that will be; I have a couple of ideas so it’s a case of weighing pros and cons before making a decision. I have a couple of non-Cabal novels, one of which is completed but needs a second draft, and the other is about 80% done. I’d like to get them polished, and then see if we can get them into print.

(Photo © Emma L.B.K. Smith)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Johannes Cabal, a brillian scientist and notorious snob, is single-mindedly obsessed in heart and soul with raising the dead. Well, perhaps not soul--he hastily sold his years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. But now, tormented by a dark secret, he travels to the fiery pits of Hell to retrieve it. Satan, who is incredibly bored these days, proposes a little wager, Johannes has one year to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever.--From publisher's description.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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