Title: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
Author: Jonathan L. Howard
Release Date: July 7, 2009
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer had all the ingredients, seemingly, to make a fun off-kilter story that would have you chuckling in mirth and turning the pages. It has a dead-pan almost “Temperance Brennen-esque” character (Johannes) who has sold his soul to the devil to understand life, death and, more importantly, re-animated life after death. However, it turns out that without a soul, things still weren’t working out, as being souless comes with side effects that interfere with Mr. Cabal’s research. Naturally enough, he marches down to Hell, past a really long line and a bookkeeper that was meant to torment and strikes up a new wager with the devil: his soul in exchange for 100 other souls. He gets one year to accomplish this, a certain amount of satanic influence to spend, and an abandoned carnival to accomplish this goal.
I don’t know, a satanic carnival could have been very cool, and it had a few key moments where it was, but overall this whole entire story was a ginormous let down. So much so, I’m not even going to worry about spoilers from here on. If you don’t want to know, stop reading NOW. (For real).
Essentially, Cabal explains to the devil that his research and knowledge won’t do him any good unless he has a soul, and it is vaguely hinted that Cabal had a reason beyond research for wanting his soul back (to continue his research) that he doesn’t want the devil to know about, and conveniently, the devil doesn’t find out either. I called what this was right when I saw this, so at the end (SPOILER) when Cabal gets home he reveals that he has a dead preserved woman hidden deep beneath his house (presumably he is in love with her/married to her/blah blah blah) and now that he has knowledge and his soul he can work on Necromancing her right back to life.
Anyhow, a demonic carnival… cooool… back to that. It could have been really cool. It was a device to lure unsuspecting folks into temptation and find out what they really want. Cabal could give it to them if they would just sign a contract (and unknowingly sign their souls away). To this end, and because Cabal is a “squint,” he doesn’t know what people want in a carnival so he goes and essentially unearths his brother he abandoned almost a decade ago who conveniently is still “alive” having been turned into a vampire and held in a crypt. Horst (Johannes’s brother) is actually an enjoyable character — the only enjoyable character — so therefore he dies. Horst knows people, dealing with people is effortless to him, and he offers to help his brother in exchange for a cure for vampirism.
At first, Horst helps Johannes reap the souls of those who were already heading to the “place below” — girlfriend beaters, criminals, and other not-so-very-nice sorts. He ends up going for two women who weren’t already damned on the last day of the wager, because the dude was desperate. Now, maybe I’d care, but at this point he is just a villain — even his brother says so — and because at this point in the story you don’t know about the girl in the basement, Johannes can’t even be a tragic hero, doing all of this for the love of his life. I mean, even by the end you don’t even know who the woman is, you’re left guessing. While he does save the two innocent souls he was otherwise going to hand over to the dark underlord and we find out that there is some other motivation than research, it is too little too late to make Johannes likable in the least. Other than returning the souls, he does nothing to have his audience root for his success in his wager — none.
Overall, this book had potential, but it was utterly unsatisfying. I mean, did I mention, a carnival sponsored by the devil to tempt and lure… yeah, THAT had potential, but the little we see of the carnival makes me think it smelled horrible and wasn’t very tempting. I have since discovered this is a series, and I have zero plans on picking up further books. Between a horrible main character, a shaky plot set in an ambiguous historical context (i.e., seems like it’s going for the Victorian/steampunk thing, but doesn’t deliver that, and is indistinct about wars referenced etc), and an attempt at clever banter and narrative that just comes off as forced snark, I would recommend you skip this one.
Rating: 1 / 5 Stars