A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.
About the Author
Jonathan L. Howard is a game designer who notably co-scripted the first three Broken Sword adventure games. He is the author of the novel Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. He lives near Bristol, England, with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
* in which a scientist visits hell and a deal is struck
Walpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. The last night of April. The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.
He stood at a desolate and lonely place where there would be no interruption, no prying eyes. The air smelled metallic with freshly spilt blood; the body of a decapitated virgin kid goat lay nearby. He had no alloyed metal about him but for a thin-bladed sword of fine steel he held in his right hand; that arm was naked, his shirt sleeve rolled up to the biceps. A silver coin wrapped in paper nestled in his waistcoat pocket. Before him burned a fire of white wood.
His name was Johannes Cabal, and he was summoning a demon.
". . . Oarios! Almoazin! Arios! Membrot!" The chanted names faded into the unusually still night air. Only the crackling of the fire accompanied him. "Janna! Etitnamus! Zariatnatmix . . . and so on." He drew a deep breath and sighed, bored with the ritual. "A. E. A. J. A. T. M. O. . . ."
There was hidden meaning in the names he must call, the letters he must chant. That didn't mean he had to approve or even be impressed by them. As he recited the Grand Conjuration, he thought that some magicians might have better served the world by writing crossword puzzles.
Then space distorted, and he was no longer alone.
The demon's name was Lucifuge Rofocale. He stood a little taller than Cabal's six feet, but the bizarre fool's cap he worethree flopping horns, or perhaps tentacles, ending with arrowheadsmade his height vary from moment to moment. In one hand he held a bag containing, at least symbolically, the riches of the world. In the other, a golden hoop. He wore a segmented, studded leather skirt rather like a Roman soldier's. Beneath it, _fur-_covered legs ended in hooves. He had a fat anteater's tail, and a silly little Hercule Poirot moustache. As is often the case with demons, Lucifuge looked like an anatomical game of Consequences.
"Lo!" cried the demon. "I am here! What dost thou seek of me? Why dost thou disturb my repose? Smite me no more with that dread rod!" He looked at Cabal. "Where's your dread rod?"
"I left it at home," replied Cabal. "Didn't think I really needed it."
"You can't summon me without a dread rod!" said Lucifuge, appalled.
"You're here, aren't you?"
"Well, yes, but under false pretences. You haven't got a goatskin or two vervain crowns or two candles of virgin wax made by a virgin girl and duly blessed. Have you got the stone called Ematille?"
"I don't even know what Ematille is."
Neither did the demon. He dropped the subject and moved on. "Four nails from the coffin of a dead child?"
"Don't be fatuous."
"Half a bottle of brandy?"
"I don't drink brandy."
"It's not for you."
"I have a hip flask," said Cabal, and threw it to him. The demon caught it and took a dram.
"Cheers," said Lucifuge, and threw it back. They regarded each other for a long moment. "This really is a shambles," the demon added finally. "What did you summon me for, anyway?"
The Gates of Hell are an impressive structure. A great adamantine finger of rock a mile in diameter and two miles high punches through the surface of the cracked and baking desert plain of Limbo. On one side of this impenetrable edifice are the Gates themselves: massive iron constructions hundreds of feet wide and a thousand high. Their rough, barely worked surfaces are pocked and pitted with great bolts driven through in ragged lines, huge bands of brass running across in uneven ranks. One could be forgiven for thinking Hell's a popular place to get into.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is.
On the outside, one wonders what happens once you pass through that terrible, cruel portal. Some believe that all Hell is somehow crammed within the rock, a place where dimensions mean nothing. Others say that immediately beyond the Gates, within the hollowed rock, is a great chasm that opens into the pit of Hell, and that those stepping within must surely plunge straight to their eternal dooms. Others believe that the rock conceals the top of a very big escalator. Nobody on the outside knows for sure, but everyone wants to find out, and they want to find out because anythinganythingis better than the forms.
Lots of forms. Stacks of forms. An average of nine thousand, seven hundred, and forty-seven of them were required to gain entrance to Hell. The largest form ran to fifteen thousand, four hundred, and ninety-seven questions. The shortest to just five, but five of such subtle phraseology, labyrinthine grammar, and malicious ambiguity that, released into the mortal world, they would certainly have formed the basis of a new religion or, at the least, a management course.
This, then, was the first torment of Hell, as engineered by the soul of a bank clerk.
Nobody had to fill in the forms, of course. But, given that the _alternative was eternity spent naked in an endless desert that has never known night, most people found themselves sooner or later queuing up at the small porter's door set into one of Hell's Gates. There they would receive a form entitled "Infernal Regions (Local Authority) Hades Admission ApplicationProvisional (AAAA/342)" and a soft pencil.
Congas of hopeful applicants wound around the gatehouse like a line drawn by somebody wanting to find out how much writing you could get out of a box of ballpoints. The formerly quiet desert hummed to a steady drone of sub-vocalised reading and flipped pages. New arrivals and old hands queued patiently at the porter's door to hand in and receive forms. The quickest route through the paper trail necessitated the completion of two thousand, seven hundred, and _eighty-_five, but nobody had yet fulfilled the extremely narrow conditions that would permit such a speedy passage. Most could anticipate three or four times as many, not counting forms rejected for mistakes; the hand-picked team of administrative imps that dealt with admissions didn't like errors at all, nor did they issue erasers.
Through the muttering crowds, stepping over form-fillers and never pausing to apologise, came a pale man. Johannes Cabal was walking to Hell.
Tow-headed, lean, in his late twenties, but with any spirit of that youth long since evaporated, Cabal seemed otherwise unremarkable except for his air of intent, his unwavering advance on the gatehouse, and his clothes.
"Hey, watch it!" barked Al Capone, wrestling with the spelling of "venereal," as Cabal stepped over him. "Why don't you just . . ." The protest died on his lips. "Hey . . . Hey! That guy's dressed! He's got clothes!"
That guy did, indeed, have clothes. A short black frock coat, slouch-brimmed black hat, black trousers, black shoes, a white shirt, and a tidy black cravat. He wore dark-blue tinted glasses with side-baffles, and he carried a black gladstone bag. Unexciting clothes, but clothes nonetheless.
It was the first sensation that the desert had ever experienced. The damned parted before Cabal, who, in his turn, seemed to accept this as his due. Some excitedly speculated that he must be a messenger from the Other Place, that the end times had finally arrived. Others pointed out that nothing in Revelation referred to a man in a black hat and sensible shoes.
Cabal walked directly to the porter's door and slammed his hand on the closed window. While he waited for a reply, he looked about him, and the damned withered beneath his soulless and impassive gaze.
The window snapped open.
"What do ye want?" demanded a weasely man wearing a teller's shade from the other side, a man named Arthur Trubshaw.
Sartre said that Hell was other people. It transpires that one of the other people was Trubshaw. He had lived a life of bureaucratic exactitude as a clerk out in a dusty bank in a dusty town in the dusty Old West. He crossed all the "t"s and dotted all the "i"s. Then he made double entries of his double entries, filed the crossed "t"s, cross-referenced the dotted "i"s in tabulated form against the dotted "j"s, barred any zeroes for reasons of disambiguation, and shaded in the relative frequencies on a pie chart he was maintaining.
Arthur Trubshaw's life of licentious proceduralism was brought to an abrupt end when he was shot to death during a robbery at the bank. He did not die heroically: not unless one considers demanding a receipt from bandits as being in some sense praiseworthy.
Even in Hell, Trubshaw had continued to demonstrate an unswerving devotion to the penny ante, the nit-picking, the terribly trivial, the very things that had poisoned his soul and condemned him in the first place. Given such a mania for order, a den of chaos like Hell should have been an ideal punishment. Trubshaw, however, just regarded it as a challenge.
At first the demons assigned to torment him laughed diabolically at his aspirations and looked forward greedily to the sweet juices that drip from crushed hopes. Then they discovered that, while they had been laughing, Trubshaw had rationalised their tormenting schedules for maximum tormenting efficiency, organised a time-and-motion study for the imps, and, in passing, tidied the underwear drawers of the demon princes and princesses. Lilith, in particular, was mortified.
Never one to squander such a remarkably irritating talent, Satan put Trubshaw in charge of admissions. Hell had grown a new, unofficial ring.
"I want to see Satan. Now." Cabal's accent was clipped and faintly Teutonic. "I don't have an appointment."
By now Trubshaw had noticed the clothes and was considering possible explanations. "And who might ye be? The Archangel Gabriel?" He started the sentence as a joke but modified his tone halfway through. After all, perhaps it was.
"My name is Johannes Cabal. Satan will see me."
"So ye're nobody special, then?"
Cabal gave him a hard look. "It is hardly my place to say. Now, open this door."
Clothes or no clothes, Trubshaw decided he was on pretty familiar ground after all. He produced a copy of AAAA/342 and pushed it towards Cabal.
"Ye'll need to fill this in, mister!" he said, and indulged himself in a chuckle, a horrible noise, like a clockwork crow running down. Cabal gave the form a cursory glance and handed it back.
"You misunderstand. I'm not staying. I have business to discuss. Then I'm leaving." There was a muted gasp from the interested onlookers.
Trubshaw narrowed his eyes. "Leaving, ye reckon? Well, I reckon ye're wrong. This is Hell, sonny. Ye just can't come gallivanting in and out like a lady's excuse-me. Ye're dead and ye're staying. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it is now, y'hear?"
Cabal looked at him for a long, long moment. Then he smiled, a cold, horrid rictus that travelled up his face like rising damp. The crowd went very quiet. Cabal leaned close to Trubshaw.
"Listen, you pathetic little man . . . you pathetic little dead man. You're making a fundamental error. I'm not dead. Tried it once, didn't like it. Right nowright this instant, as I look into your rheumy little gimlet corpse eyesI am alive. I have come here at great inconvenience, causing considerable disruption in my work, to talk to your seedy fallen angel of a boss. Now, open the door before you regret it."
Everybody shifted their attention to Trubshaw. This was going to be good.
"No, Mr. Fancy-Pants-Living-Fella, I ain't gonna open the door, and I ain't gonna regret it, neither. Know why? Because, as ye spotted so neatly despite them damn foolish spectacles, I'm dead, and, better yet, I'm on the payroll in these parts. My job's to make sure people fill in the paperwork. All the paperwork. Elseways, they don't get in, and right now, right this instant, I'm guessing that means you, too, ye lanky son of a bitch. Sowhat're ye going to do about that? Eh?"
For his answer, Cabal raised his bag until it was level with the window. Then he carefully opened it and, with a flourish like a stage magician, produced a skull.
Trubshaw shied away momentarily, but curiosity overcame him. "What ye got there, ye freak?"
Cabal's horrible smile deepened.
"It's your skull, Trubshaw." Trubshaw blanched and his eyes widened as he gazed at it. "I . . . 'liberated' it from your old town's cemetery. They still talk about your death there, you know. You've quite passed into local folklore."
"I always did my duty," said Trubshaw, unable to tear his eyes away from the skull.
"Oh, yes. Your name lives on to this day."
"Indeed." Cabal waited exactly long enough for pride to start swelling agreeably in Trubshaw's withered excuse for a heart before adding, "It has become a byword for stupidity."
Trubshaw blinked, the spell broken.
"Oh, yes. Well, what do you expect if you get yourself murdered for the sake of a receipt? Children say, 'You're as dumb as Trubshaw,' to their little playmates. When their parents refer to somebody remarkably stupid, they'll say, 'Well, there goes a proper Trubshaw and no mistake.' You can get souvenirs and everything. It's quite the cottage industry."
He smiled, and something like benevolence slipped into his expression for the first time. It was almost certainly a trick of the light.
Trubshaw incandesced with fury.
"How the heck do you reckon you're gonna get by me now, you goddamned Kraut? You really got my goat now, y'know. By jiminy, it'll be a cold day around here afore I let ye through!"
Cabal affected a yawn. "Your reputation is well deserved, Arthur Trubshaw. You think I stole this skull as a keepsake? Do you know who I am?"
"I don't care who ye are, mister! You can take yer bag a' bones and shove it right up ye"
"I am Johannes Cabal. Necromancer."
It went very quiet indeed on both sides of the door. Word gets about in the shadowed places. Corpses exchange scuttlebutt and gossip, and they know all about the necromancers, the sorcerers who use the dead. They are the Bogeyman's Bogeymen.
"Now, Arthur, your choice is clear. You can open the door and let me in. Or I can go back to the land of the living in a truly abominable mood, raise you up from this place, put your cankerous soul into something that will do as a body, and then make you wish you were dead all over again. Repeatedly."
Cabal pulled down his _smoked-_glass spectacles far enough to show his hard, humourless eyesgrey flecked with blue that suggested tempered steel and difficult times ahead for any foeand Trubshaw knew he meant every word. "Which is it to be?"
The Arch-Demon Ratuth Slabuth had been informed that Hell had been invaded and, being a general of the Infernal Hordes, did he intend to do anything about it? Flying devils were sent to reconnoitre the enemy force, but these quickly returned andsomewhat crestfallenreported that the invaders consisted of one man with a short temper and sunglasses. Intrigued, the general had decided to take the situation into his own hands, claws, and writhing thorned tentacles.
Ratuth Slabuth, a stack of shifting _non-Euclidean angles topped by a horse's skull in a stylised, ancient-Grecian helmet, looked down from a great height upon the insolent human.
"This is Hell," he tried to explain for the third time. "Not a drop-in centre. You can't just turn up and say, 'Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood and thought I'd call by and have a bit of a chinwag with Lord Satan.' It simply isn't done."
"No," said the infuriating mortal. "It hasn't been done. There is a difference. May I pass now?"
"No, you may not. Satan's a very busy . . . um, is very busy right now. He can't go interrupting his work for every Tom, Dick, and Johannes"he paused for effect, but the human just looked at him with a faint air of what seemed to be pity"Harry, that is, who turns up demanding audience."
"Really?" said Cabal. "I had no idea. I thought this would be an uncommon occurrence, unique even, but you seem to imply that it happens all the time. Fair enough."
Ratuth was just thinking how well he'd handled things when, suddenly, Cabal pointed directly at him. "I call you liar!" he spat. "I call you duplicitous, mendacious, and thoroughly amateur at both enterprises."
"What?" shrieked the demon general. "WHAT? You, a mere mortal, dare to call me thus?" The eldritch angles unfolded, the darkness about him deepened as he rose like some dreadful bird of prey. "I shall destroy you! I shall rend the very flesh from your skeleton, hollow your long bones, and play your funeral lament upon them! For I am Ratuth Slabuth! Dark General of the Infernal Hordes! Father of Desolation! Despoiler of Innocence! Look upon me, mortal, and know thy doom!"
Cabal, he noticed through his rage, looked calm. Worryingly so.
" 'Ratuth Slabuth,' eh?" said Cabal. "You wouldn't happen to have started your career as Ragtag Slyboots, Despoiler of Milk and Entangler of Shoelaces, would you?"
The effect was electric. Ratuth Slabuth folded up like an especially large deck of cards in the blink of an eye until he was the same height as Cabal.
"How did you know that?" he asked quickly.
"I'm a necromancer. You'd be surprised at the sources we dig up. Now, then, do I get my audience with Satan or do I spread rumours about a certain diabolic general's personal history? Which is it to be?"
A Conversation with Jonathan L. Howard, Author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
Q: 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?
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 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.
Q: 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?
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 pernickety 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.
Q: 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?
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."
Q: Have you always been a fan or horror and supernatural lore? When did this sort of thing first capture your imagination?
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.
Q: What sort of research did you do for the book? Was there anything you came across in the process that really surprised you?
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.
Q: 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?
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.
Q: 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?
He's definitely misunderstood, although if he were understood, it still wouldn't make him popular. The fact that he's labelled 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.
Q: What's next for you?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found this to be an engaging story with interesting characters. The premise of the book -- Johannes making a deal with the devil to gather 100 souls for him in a year with the help of a demonic traveling carnival in order to get his own soul back -- was what made me purchase this book. It sounded like an interesting story (even if it has been done before). I found myself chuckling quite a bit throughout the book at the author's intended humor. My main complaint about this book is that I wanted more. More of the back-story of Johannes' original deal with the devil where he gave up his own soul. More of his brother Horst's story and how he came into his own predicament. I would have liked more to the descriptions of the bizarre carnival characters. I guess that's part of why I liked this book; because it kept me wanting more. I would definitely like to see a sequel to this book (especially after the way it ends), but would prefer a PREQUEL first so that I can learn more about what makes Johannes the way he is and why he became a necromancer in the first place. If you purchase this book expecting a "horror" novel per say, you WILL be disappointed. However, I read this book with an open mind and no expectations of blood and guts or of how the story would move along. I was not disappointed. I found myself wrapped up in Johannes' quest for the 100 souls, part of me wanting him to succeed and part of me thinking why should he get his soul back when these other poor suckers are losing theirs because of him? It was strange for me because Johannes is not really a likeable character, yet I still found myself rooting for him to get those souls before time ran out. Guess that doesn't say much for the state of my soul! Overall, I really enjoyed this book.
If you enjoy the writing styles of Fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman ('The Graveyard Book') and the cynical humor of Terry Pratchett ('Good Omens'), you'll enjoy this first novel by Jonathan L. Howard. The story is 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' with a Faustian twist. While reading the novel, I pictured a Tim Burton-esque landscape with a variety of dynamic characters and a twist in the plot along the way. The story reads like watching a movie, vivid and engaging, it's a great read. Without giving away too much, I could hardly put the book down and was ecstatic to find out a sequel is due this summer!
For fans of writers like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett this is a book that is sure to please. Based off of the Faustian legend of the man who made a deal with the devil twice. This book revolves around the second deal that was made. A wager. Johannes must gather 100 souls in years time. To aid him, Satan has loaned him a circus. “I’ve had a hand in quite a few over the years. Absolutely splendid, they are. People looking for a good time drop their guard, you see.” So sets off the circus of discord as it had been labeled in Satans box of old proposals. Johannes sets out to seek the help of his brother Horst, who due to an unfortunate experiment gone awry is now a vampire. But Horst has a way with people, they listen to him. But what’s a good wager, without a few bumps along the way? Satans avatars help cause mischief periodically in Johannes journey with the carnival of the damned. Filled with cynical humor, surprises, and mischief around every corner. I will say the read itself was quite enjoyable, I love anything circus related, and twisted tales to begin with, but I wanted something more. The experiment that left Horst as a vampire, the original deal made with the devil, and more background story all the way around. However, that should not dissuade you from reading this novel, as it is still a highly entertaining novel that is worth a read. If you like this I would also suggest reading: Good Omens by: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet and The Child Thief by: Brom.
If you are even remotely interested in magic and the occult written in a sarcastic tone. This is the book for you!!
I don't really go in for the supernatural type books but this was a really good read-it had the good and the bad although sometimes it was hard to tell who was who
I am not going to stand here and tell you that this book is the best I have read this year, it is not even the best I have read this month... none the less it is worth a look. I gave this book a liberal 4 stars, though in reality I would place it at 3 or 3 and 1/2 stars if not for the "charm" that seems to fuel this book. I would have enjoyed the book continuing for another 50-100 pages in order to give it a more fitting conclusion and elaborate more on some of the side stories that developed in the last 2 to 3 chapters. I read this book over the course of three days, I took it to the beach and I found myself getting wrapped up in the story. It has a dark humor that fans of the Dexter series(TV or books) should appreciate, along with decent characters and an entertaining plot. Any book that can make you smile at hell is worth at least a look. Buy it for a nice relaxing read, but don't expect Faust.
The sort of book Tim Burton would write, if he wanted to write a book about a necromancer who's bet his soul on a wager with the devil and then travels the country side with a hellish fair. So, really, Burton should adapt this book.
Necromancy, Satan, a demonic traveling carnival, and a protagonist that's described in a way that reminds me of David Bowie?! I'm in. By turns hilarious, creepy, irreverent, disgusting and clever, it had all the things I like in a novel. It really was a delightful little romp, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Johannes Cabal.
I got this book on loan from a friend. It sounded right up my alley, a darkly humorous book about a necromancer. It was a wonderful book; creative and intriguing, with just the right touch of dark humor combined with thoughtfulness to give it a darkly ironic, yet meaningful feel.Johannes Cabal sold his soul to Satan in return for the knowledge of Necromancy. Now he finds that not having a soul is causing problems with his research and he wants his soul back. He makes a deal with Satan...if he can sign over 100 souls to Satan in the time of one year than he can have his soul back. Johannes gets the help of a dark carnival and proscribes his undead brother to assist with the set up. Now him, his brother, and a carnival of dark things are wandering the landscape in search of souls. Of course, nothing ever goes how Johannes plans and Satan never plays fair.This was a wonderful book. Johannes is a conceited and somewhat bad man, but he isn't evil. Howard gives Johannes enough feeling and humanity that you always kind of understand where Johannes is coming from. Johannes isn't after power, he merely wants to defeat death. The cast of characters in this book is fabulous; they are all well characterized with interesting histories. Even the briefest characters really come alive on the page. A number of darkly humorous things happen on their journey. Of course the story is incredibly engaging and quite the page turner. The whole time you are wondering what will happen to Johannes; will he get 100 souls? will he find a loop hole in the contract? To add to these questions, as the journey continues Johannes's brother becomes increasingly upset about the morality of what they are doing and this adds a lot of tension to the story.Howard's writing style took a little bit to get used but after the first couple chapters I found it to be very readable and loved the detail he puts into describing his surroundings.While, for the most part, this book is a darkly humorous story about one necromancer's quest to outwit Satan; it touches on a number of issues dealing with morality and death. And despite Johannes's cold and abrupt manner you can't help but understand him by the end of the book and perhaps even find him somewhat likable.Overall I enjoyed this book a lot. There is not a thing I would change about it. I think this is something that most adults would find an interesting read. If you like dark humor you are sure to get into this, if you like reading about the supernatural this is a great read too. I recommend picking it up because it is engaging, creative, humorous, different, and yet meaningful. The sequel to this book Johannes Cabal the Detective comes out on July 13th, 2010 and I am eager to read it.
I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. It came highly recommended by more than a few people as a book I would enjoy.And I really should have enjoyed it. The characters were interesting. The concept was interesting. Sometimes the humor tried a little too hard, but it was still darkly funny. Something was lacking though. Maybe it was just too short, but I never really got immersed in any of it. I didn't get into the story, I didn't get to know the characters as well as I would have liked, and I wasn't intrigued enough to motivate myself to keep an eye out for the next book.
Inspired by Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (my fave ever) by posing the question: where do dark carnivals come from anyway!? Johannes Cabal, a necromancer, sold his soul to the Devil for research secrets and now, several years later, he wants it back. He enters into a wager with Ol' Satan and borrows a dark carnival to gather souls. There's some dark/light humor, a good Faustian story, and it's interesting to see what Cabal will do to fulfill the bargain. Not the best read ever, but certainly still held its own.
The real strengths of this exercise in serio-comic gothic relate to the character of Johannes Cabal himself, who for all his determination and skill in the dark arts is a butt of cosmic jokes. You can call him a villain simply for the nature of his dark endeavors, or you can call him an anti-hero on the basis of his saving graces of his character, but for me the term that best describes him is fanatic. One can almost imagine Howard having produced a character study of a terrorist in gothic clothing.The other particular strength of Howard's approach to it all is his skill at writing the set-piece vignette, starting with Cabal invoking a demon to take him to hell, but not especially caring that all the forms are met. Let's just say that the author has impeccable comic timing, as he sends his protagonist through his paces, up until Cabal's year as master of the carnival of the damned has run its course.I have almost no complaints with this novel, in which Howard has done himself a favor by keeping things sharp and to the point; I don't think that this sort of story is ever served by sprawling immersion. I also think that the criticisms of the plot not being coherent enough are easy enough to overlook when writing a picaresque travel adventure. Is the climax a little weak, when Cabal finally faces effective human opposition? Maybe; but events are set in train that detonate in the follow-on story. Those who think that the plotting is a little weak here will be much more satisfied with the steam-punk thriller that is "Johannes Cabal the Detective."
Johannes Cabal has sold his soul to the devil in return for necromancy skills. However, his lack of a soul is throwing off his experiments, so he makes a new wager. If he can get 100 souls in one year's time (with the help of a circus from Satan that's powered by the dead), then he can have his soul back and keep his necromancy skills. If not, he dies.I know the concept of winning your soul back from Satan isn't very new, but I've never read a book like this, and really enjoyed it. Despite the fact that Johannes is soul-less (and it does show in his personality), he has wonderfully dry sense of humor. He's very driven, but he's not completely evil, as events later in the story will show. His brother Horst is very likeable too, as well as Bones, one of the undead carnival assistants. I thought the pace of the book moved along well, and I enjoyed the dark humor.As soon as I was finished, I ordered the sequel. Can't wait to read it.
Interesting read. A little hard to read (sometimes confusing). Have to finish to appreciate.
This book tended, like the carnival train Cabal rides from town to town, to run off into abandoned sidings leading nowhere. This happened a few times: suddenly we're reading about peripheral characters with no introduction (who is this guy? and why do I care?). Cabal himself gets little introduction, just a sentence of description (which I missed on the first read - I went back and found out he's towheaded and twenty). Why does he mutter German expletives? No idea (I guess he's from Germany). Why is his brother a vampire? No idea, though the book seems to assume we know the backstory. What is Cabal trying to discover with his researches? This last is kept hidden until the very end, when we at last get a look at the man's motivations. The droll, sardonic tone carries the day, fortunately, and the story itself (though it sputters and smokes here and there) is fairly amusing. It is sort of like a funny Jonathan Strange, but not very much. More like the Henghis Hapthorn books by Matthew Hughes: a misanthropic loner who is not much afraid of anything. I'd go with the Hughes books, if you haven't checked them out. Much better than this.
An entertaining and solid book, it has a fascinating life to it that keeps one reading. I must admit, this is one of the more unique books I've read, definitely one worth checking out.
Absolutely loved it! So entertaining that I didn't want it to end. I just looked and found out that author is writing more Johannes Cabal books and I feel so vastly relieved, I cannot wait for more!
Johannes Cabal sold his soul to Satan in exchange for necromantic knowledge. He allowed the soul to be taken immediately, under the theory that he didn¿t really need it anyway. However, he has since discovered that the lack of a soul is impacting his ability to properly conduct scientific experiments in his field. The only thing for it is to go to Hell and demand his soul back, decides the eminently reasonable man. Satan, however, isn¿t sure he agrees, and the two decide upon a wager. If Johannes Cabal can, in the course of a year, persuade 100 people to sign over their souls to the devil, Satan will return Cabal¿s soul to him in exchange for the 100. To aid him, Johannes is given control of an evil carnival¿because carnivals are, of course, known as places in which humans can be tempted by delights into actions they would never otherwise consider. Johannes, not being a carnival sort of fellow himself, enlists the assistance of his charmly, though undead and vampiric, brother Horst¿and the Cabal Bros Carnival is born! Over the course of the next year, the carnival moves from town to town, encountering roadblocks¿both literal and figurative¿along the way. Finally it comes down to the very last day of the year and Johannes needs only one more soul¿but an unusually astute ex-policeman in this very last town has figured out what¿s afoot with this strange carnival and is bound and determined to do whatever it takes to thwart Johannes¿ plans.Dryly humorous, witty, fast-paced, and thoroughly enjoyable, ¿Johannes Cabal the Necromancer¿ is an admirable addition to the subgenre of horror/fantasy I like to call ¿funny Faustian tales.¿ (And yes, there are other books in this genre, odd though it sounds!)
Faustian novels don't come along every day. Inexplicably, I've read two in a row. However, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and The Angel's Game are as different as night and day. If Carlos Ruiz Zafon's dark gothic drama is night, then Jonathan Howard's light comic fantasy must be day. As the novel opens, Johannes is pursuing an audience with Satan, to whom he sold his soul some years earlier in exchange for the secrets of necromancy. As you know, Satan never gives something for nothing. He proposes a wager--Johannes must collect 100 souls within a year's time or forfeit his life as well as his soul. To aid in this endeavor, Satan lends Johannes a "carnival of discord." From there, the first half of the novel is picaresque, almost like a series of linked stories: Johannes and the Vampire, Johannes Meets a Ghost, Johannes Takes on a Madman. You get the idea. The second half of the novel is really an extended dénouement, and I'm not entirely sure the two halves join together gracefully. The latter half of the novel is more dramatic in tone and features less of the comedy that buoyed the opening. When he puts his mind to it, Howard does have that distinctly British comic voice. Here are two brief examples: * 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. * We're supposed to be doing the devil's work and you've gone and contaminated it all with the whiff of virtue. I really don't think you've quite got the hang of being an agent of evil. One of the problems with this novel is that it's a redemption story. As the seeker of redemption, Johannes starts out as a fairly unlikable character, and remains so for much of the book. Truthfully, I generally wasn't sure if I was rooting for or against him in his wager with Satan. His brother Horst is repeatedly described as "the charismatic one," but we're told this rather than shown. While Horst is definitely the more likable of the two, there are few characters to care about in this novel. As I read, there was one revelation regarding Johannes's motivation that I kept expecting to be revealed. I didn't expect, however, to have to wait all the way until the penultimate paragraph of the novel. It's an ending, of sorts, but leaves me thinking that we haven't seen the last of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.
Johannes Cabal needs to collect 100 souls in less than a year to get his own soul back from the Devil. See, he sold it to get insight into necromancy and the ability to understand life and death. Unfortunately, what he thought was a hindrance in his work - his soul - turns out to be needed after all and he's got to get it back, and he's even been given the Devil's carnival to make it happen.Part Faust, part Something Wicked This Way Comes, with a dash of dark humor, Jonathan Howard's Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is a pretty darned good novel. There's more than a hint of Neil Gaiman here, even some Terry Pratchett, without being derivative. And there's an interesting study of our human nature, how we can lose it in the process of attaining an ultimately unachievable goal, and how we can get it back again.
What an unusual, wonderful book! Brings to mind Bradbury's "Something Wicket This Way Comes", which is ok, since it's one of my faves, and the author lists it as an influence. Johannes Cabal sold his soul to the devil a while back to learn the secrets of necromancy, and now he wants it back. So he makes a deal with Satan that he will gather 100 souls for him in a years time, using a diabolical carnival that Satan provides, as his vehicle for gathering said souls. He also enlists his charismatic vampire brother, Horst, to help. Horst is, surprisingly, a very moral creature, but he loves his brother, and does his best to help him achieve his ends without helping him corrupt himself completely. Mr. Howard manages to create a sympathetic character of Cabal, amidst an evil carnival made of evil constructs designed to make the weak sign over their souls for eternal damnation. It's also touching in parts, and the writing moved along so well that I just about couldn't put it down. This was a fast read for me, but only cause it was just that good!
Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, enters hell and makes a wager with the devil. He is given a travelling carnival and one year to gather 100 souls as payment for the return of his own soul. However, his meticulous and misanthropic nature make running a carnival a nightmare. Hijinks and difficult moral choices ensue. I thought that this was an entertaining introduction to the series and the character. Cabal combines the cool-headed logic of Sherlock Holmes with the mind-bending horror of Lovecraft, and the combination is one that I can't get enough of.
“Johannes Cabal the Necromancer” is an interesting and humorous tale of a man trying to reclaim his soul from the devil. As part o the wager he is running a traveling carnival employing killers, demons and the undead. The characters are fun and are at the basis of this story. The writing is good and the plot keeps moving at a good pace.
The title states it all. Great writing with witty banter. What's not to love?
This was his first book? I loved this book. It was extraordinarily fun. I was drawn in by the cover art, read a synopsis and was really intrigued by the plot. I kept putting this book off to read other things, but finally picked it up. It was so well-written, I still have trouble believing it was Howard's first novel. Excellent read, outstanding characters. My only regret is that I'm not still reading it!