December 31, 2010

Review: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer - Jonathan L. Howard - I started 2010 with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal and since it rains cats and dogs in Portugal in March, we ended up in Fnac. Needlessly to say, we left 100 euros lighter and several bags of books richer. One of those books was Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

I'd picked it out solely on the strength of the title and the cover. The next morning my girlfriend went for a haircut at her local barbershop and since it was raining again, I crawled up in a chair in the corner and read the book almost from start to finish. 

If you like strange fiction, this is your book. For lovers of dark fantasy with enough humour to keep you snickering like a little schoolgirl, this is your book. It deals with Johannes Cabal, by all accounts a very gifted necromancer with all the implications thereof.

What is it about?

The book opens with Cabal going down the pits of Hell to claim his soul back from Satan. This scene alone sends you into fits of laughter, but it gets better. The Lord of Darkness doesn't hand Cabal's soul over without a fight, of course, and coaxes the necromancer into starting a carnival of souls, so to speak. Cabal has to earn Satan 100 souls within a year in order to win back his soul. Cabal, naturally peeved, returns to Earth and immediately employs two hoodlums (whom he kills and turns to zombies) to help him on his quest. Along comes also Cabal's brother whom he turned into a vampire many years ago and subsequently banished to life in a mausoleum.

Funny enough, it's this vampire brother Horst who later becomes a sounding board for morality as the story spins down a darker path. For the ride of the carnival train throughout the year starts out fun and happy, snatching souls from each and every place in various comical interludes, but turns dark and horrific in the later chapters as the end of the year approaches and Cabal threatens to lose his bet. It's final outcome I will leave for the readers.

So, is it any good?

Howard combines the horrific with the comical in a satirical tapestry which we recognize from, for example, Terry Pratchett. The hapless helpers, the running gags (the two zombies fall apart more and more as the journey goes on) and the dialogue are all tuned to start you snickering from within until you roar out with laughter. The writing never gets dull. The pace is excellent, switching between the funny carnival scenes and the horrific bits. The ways in which the various demons and devils win the souls of the unsuspecting carnival-goers is both clever and well-written.

The only part where the book wavers just a little is when Cabal is almost loosing his bet and the support of his circus freaks as well as that of his brother. His final showdown with Lucifer feels somehow strained and far-fetched. But this is followed and exceeded by an excellent twist in the plot in the final chapter when we find out exactly why Cabal is so hell-bent on gaining his soul back and even why he became a necromancer in the first place.

We are led to believe we'll be seeing more of Cabal and, as I have noticed around the internet, we have! So I'm guessing I'll be heading back to Fnac again next year!

Johannes Cabal Website

Other Reviews - Floating Robes' Read and Reading!

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