Title: Johannes Cabal The Necromancer
Pagecount: -n/a- (lent to a friend at the time of this review)
Author:Jonathon L. Howard (A)
I have yet to meet a character who entertains me as much as Johannes Cabal.
I picked up Johannes Cabal The Necromancer at Gibson Books in Concord, New Hampshire. I’d read the first page while browsing at another bookstore and hadn’t, at the time, thought it to be something I was interested in. It is one of those books where one must continue onto the second page to get the joke. Thank goodness I did.
The Necromancer (for simplicity, since repeating the protagonist’s name can get irritating and flat) follows a well known plot device: the ever so popular deal with the Devil. Specifically, Johannes’ deal- to get his soul back, because the moron bartered it away in order to further his scientific studies of necromancy. Satan is intrigued by the idea. He is also very bored. So he agrees on a wager: one hundred mortal souls in return for Cabal’s. Of course he’s not a completely unfair demon, so good old Johannes gets a little bit of supernatural help..in the form of a hell-created traveling carnival.
If you decide to read The Necromancer looking for a sweeping supernatural epic complete with fire and ancient talking spell books, don’t waste your time. That’s not what Johannes Cabal is about, and he tells you point blank, several times. The man is a scientist. He isn’t even a magician. He uses necromancy because it will help him with his true goal, and that is the only reason he puts up with the flim flam and fiddle faddle of gods-touched asylum inmates, cranky undead bureaucrats, and a bald summons constantly complaining about the fact that he has no hair.
I laughed more reading this book than I have in a long time. Johannes himself is a dry-witted cynic whose main goal seems to be to avoid humanity as much as possible. When handed a cup of root beer he asks, after one distasteful sip, “People drink this? For purposes other than medicinal?” Picture House with a gladstone bag, a skull-topped cane, and lacking in (most) emotional baggage.
That isn’t to say that the writing is flawless, something to cry over. No, there are several points in the book where I furrowed my brow. Plot devices that could have been utilized in a funkyfresh manner left by the wayside, bizarre stops on the railway that have very little to do with the getting or forgiving of souls, and a hesitance to mention the word ‘death’ and ‘woman’ in the same paragraph, to name a few. Seriously. I’ve never seen a book somehow lacking in wordcount manage to finagle its way around the fact that a widower misses his wife like an accountant around a credit score.
I found it refreshing that The Necromancer was not one of these neat entertainment books, or a heavily-sedate tome of Life and Death. Of course I think it’s entertaining and I think you will, too; your kid could read this book and love it. At the same time, it is smart. Not very subtly so- I guessed the ending four chapters beforehand- but it doesn’t need to hide what it is.
What makes this book, and arguably saves it, is Johannes himself. The Cranky Anti-Hero has been done before; but Johannes does it with style, and the addition of a lack of guilty conscience. Well, right up until the end. That’s for you to find out, though. Cabal is a character who sticks with you even when you’ve closed the book. He is the kind of man that you would want to write fanfiction about, because you can’t bear the thought of not watching him be unenthusiastic and irked with the world at large. Johannes Cabal is not original, but he’s heartfelt even at his worst.
Is he going to be this good forever? I’ll tell you as soon as I read the sequel; I ordered it a half hour after I finished The Necromancer.