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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (2009)

by Jonathan L. Howard

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Recently added byprivate library, cebellol, ssimon2000, peta158, Ghostly1
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» See also 76 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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 |
This was Jonathan Howard's first novel, and I loved it. It has the dark humor of Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens but the wit and repartee of Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box novels. From the beginning we get the impression that Johannes Cabal is methodical, sociopathic, efficient, uncommonly intelligent and a force to be reckoned with. As a necromancer, he is a rare being. However, his powers came with a hefty price tag and Johannes must gather one hundred damned souls in exchange to have his returned to him. In order to complete this task, Johannes is loaned the use of a hellishly alluring Carnival. But there are moments in the narrative where the author on puts the brakes and gives Johannes a few private moments of character development. One is Johannes escape from The Garden and the other is freeing the lost soul of a WWI veteran. With his escape, the reader realizes that Johannes can feel panic. He is not a hero (anti-hero?) without fear. He fears and loathes Death. But why fear Death when he can stroll in and out of Hell at will? Another character the readers will enjoy is Horst Cabal, Johannes vampire brother. Horst was human once and does not particularly enjoy being a vampire. But being a vampire has its advantages. Horst is charming, manipulative, charismatic and incredibly threatening when provoked. While being almost complete opposites, the motto "blood is thicker than water" runs true between them. The dynamic between the two is some of the best in the book and brings out much of the humanity still left in Johannes. Overall it is entertaining, clever, dark and even sad at times and I cannot wait to find out more in Johannes Cabal the Detective. ( )
  asukamaxwell | Mar 6, 2014 |
Flawed but promising first book in the eventually brilliant Johannes Cabal series. Forgive the wobbles in pacing if you can, because what's good here gets better in books two and three. ( )
  Cynara | Jan 14, 2014 |
Dreadful. I knew I was going to throw in the towel after about 30 pages, but I kept going until page 65 because I wanted to give it a reasonable chance. I was in the mood for some gothic wit, some charming amorality, and some evocative darkness. Fail, on all accounts. It wasn’t witty. The plot was contrived. The writing was forced and awkward. And the main character was neither charming nor witty. In fact, he was stiff and boring. Here is the dead-on insight I had about this book:Sometimes while I'm reading, descriptive phrases or concepts that I will use in my review will burst into my head (it’s not that I’m formulating my final opinion but that critical thoughts are sparked as I go along, both positive and negative) and soon after I had begun reading The Necromancer, I thought … this book is constructed like a video game. It starts with a quest for the main character. Turns out our anti-hero surrendered his soul to Satan, and the book starts out with him tricking his way back into Hell in order to demand it back. (Side note: Uhm? Really? And he thinks it likely because Satan is … a standup guy? So, he starts out behaving like a moron even though he’s supposed to be intelligent if rather clueless about common-sense matters.) Satan tells him, okay—if you get this dark soul-stealing carnival up and running and can steal me 100 souls in 1 year, then I’ll give you your soul back. Quest: check! His first mission: Get the carnival up and running. His second mission, figure out how the different elements of the circus will help him succeed at his mission. Each soul is a sub-mission. There are side-quests, etc. He seeks help from other characters (those played by the computer). Blah-blah-blah. Totally like a video game storyline. So then I was using my blow dryer on the book. (I’ll pause. I spilled water all over it, and I was planning to take it to the charity resale shop--Howard Brown, which raises funds for the healthcare needs of poor LGBT folks--that is next to the gay nightclub, which is next to my condo building, but I obviously couldn’t donate the book soaking wet.) And while I was blow drying it, the author page blew open, and I read thereon that the author of this book was a video game designer and scriptwriter.I rest my fucking case. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Nov 26, 2013 |
Deeply darkly funny adventures in necromancy.

Humour is a hard thing thing to review but chuckling or not there is a lot of fun to be had here. Cabal steps out of one of those horror films involving evil scientists and screaming women (probably chased by pitchfork weilding mobs) and into a comedy Faustian caper. For Cabal wants his soul back (affecting his experiments you know) and a bet with Satan means he has to collect 100 souls in 1 year and just has 1 hellish carnival to entice the soon to be
very damned punters.

"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
here-"
"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'!”


Ah how easily you could despise Cabal but Howard traveses this fine line perfectly. Your root for Cabal and his unwavering, deeply scary, obsessive scientific purpose. The plot, the supporting cast (the honorable Horst), the jokes, the wry narration all make the inhuman very human and serve to make things intriging (oh I can't wait to read the 2nd book).

“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 loved the mind numbing bureacracy of hell as much as I loved every sarcastic witty put down. I loved the fight with elder god worshippers almost as I loved the list of serial killers ( 'The Bible Basher' - Only dangerous to individuals with the surname 'Bible'). I loved Cabal's refusal to back down, I loved how he got scared, I loved the horrific sideshows (the mirror that shows you how you wish you looked). Oh and I loved that it segues well into a serious denouement whilst swapping in a new character without jarring. I loved the end. Perfect although I suspect will unnerve some. Oh Can I have some attack fairies please?

“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.”


I didn't love that you would have to look hard for a female presence but thats my only complaint.

Hugely recommend as only a good fun book should be (I didn't annoy anyone by reading out the best bits.. honest!) ( )
  clfisha | Nov 13, 2013 |
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Epigraph
A Clock stopped -

Not the Mantel's -

Geneva's farthest skill -

Can't put the puppet bowing -

That just now dangled still -

Emily Dickinson
Dedication
For Noel and Enid Howard
First words
Walpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. The last night of April. The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.
Quotations
“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
here-"
"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'!”
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:13 -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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