Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
By Jonathan L Howard
Another book found at random during one of my frequent book hunts which usually end up with more books on my shelf that I don't have the time to read. This time however I have been sent the third novel in the series by those wonderful people at Headline so I thought it a good idea to read the first two books first. The story is all about a Necromancer called Johannes Cabal who made the naive error of selling his soul to Satan as a jejune young adult.
Now he's older and a little wiser he has realised that it was a serious mistake – it’s not just for his research to have validity, but he realises he needs it to be himself. Unfortunately his soul now rests within the festering bureaucracy of Hell, fortunately Satan is bored and can't resist a little wager; in return for his own soul, Cabal must gather and condemn to the fiery pit one hundred other souls within the space of one year. To help with this infernal recruitement drive he is given a delicously evil carnival show that he must update, populate and manage if he is to have any hope of success.
I've often thought that there is too few good comedy writers out there, of course we've got the King of comic fantasy Sir Terry Pratchett and a few others like Rankin, Holt and the late Douglas Adams but considering the vastness of the genre it's a very small list. As such it is a delight to see a really talented author writting such dry, witty and entertaining stories as is the case with Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. Using the faustian tale as a base and giving it a stylish and modern twist, the novel is written with a confident and charasmatic voice that shouts out with intelligent and darkly comic humour.
For me Johannes stole the show, a ruthless anti-hero with just enough of a conscience to allow the reader to bond with him and yet with a single mindedness and determination that pushes him to try and win his bet with the devil whatever the cost. The methods he and his brother use to achieve this are both inventive and damn funny.
I especially liked the relationship between the two brothers, both are ruthless and appear to have little moral values (Johannes less than his brother) and yet in their own ways do have some small saving graces, a small spark of humanity hidden within the monster. I also loved the timeless setting of the novel and the deliberate ambiguity in the actual location that the events takes place - even though it is quintessentially English from the rather quaint village names like "West Bentley" and "Pondesbury" to the talk of cricket matches and weather - which all helps to create a feeling of a fable rather than just a story.
I really enjoyed this novel, there is a fantastically dark humour running throughout that had me laughing out loud a number of times, the plot is inventive, the characters colourful and the narrative written with style and panache, highly recommended.
Written on 19th September 2011 by Ant .