Hi again, and welcome back to the Spooky Cor- no, wait. Hmm. Let’s try that again, shall we?
Hi again, and welcome to something-analogous-to-but-not-quite-as-spooky-as-the-real-Spooky-Corner! I’m here today to review Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard, the first book in the aptly-named Johannes Cabal series. As something of a connoisseur of horror books, zombie books, books involving Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and books that make me laugh I find it surprising that it’s taken me this long to hear about this series. Currently on its fifth main installment (with an additional 5 supplementary books), Johannes Cabal clearly has something going for it. Let’s find out what that something is.
We’ll begin with a quick rundown: Johannes Cabal, the main character and essentially a differently-named version of the titular character from Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator (funny how similar the titles are…eh?), has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for necromantic powers and he wants it back. He goes to hell with the intention of making a wager with Satan, and does so. The rules are that he must provide Satan with 100 souls in the next year or he will be killed and damned to forever remain in hell. To make this less of a sisyphean task, the devil provides Cabal with a demonic carnival that he will act as the proprietor of for the duration of the year. This all happens in the opening of the book, and the remainder is spent touching on various scenes from the year Cabal spends on the road (well, rails, it’s a train).
There are really only two main characters in the book (three if you include Satan, which is a bit of a stretch but I could see an argument for it), Johannes Cabal and his brother, Horst. As such, the majority of the book follows them and their friendly (from Horst’s end, Johannes flatly hates him) sibling rivalry. Much of the book’s humor comes from one of the brothers reacting to something the other has done, and the vast majority of it was charming. Like the protagonists of most horror books, though, Johannes is…well he’s not a shithead, and I wouldn’t call him strictly “evil” per se. Let’s put it this way, he’s someone who has no qualms collecting 100 other souls to get his own back, which puts him firmly in the “not a good person” category. Does he do some good things? Yes, but if you’re the type of reader who needs a noble, selfless paragon of good as your main character, this is definitely not going to be the book for you. However, the specific ways in which Cabal is sort of terrible lend a lot to the humor of the book and work very well with the story being told.
Considering the subject matter (a necromancer on a task from satan to steal souls), you could be forgiven for assuming a lack of humor. You would be very wrong. There’s something for almost everyone here, Cabal’s personal sense of humor and dialogue is incredibly dry and sardonic, the zombies he creates are bumbling and almost entirely inept sources of slapstick humor and what would be sight gags if this were a movie, and some of the descriptions of scenes had me guffawing. I was particularly fond of Cabal’s painfully awkward run as a carnival barker, as a man dressed like, and with the demeanor of, a mortician yelling about how astounding a freak show is really hits me in the funny bone. Not every joke landed, but even the jokes that didn’t quite hit for me didn’t have me rolling my eyes, so I think that overall the humor in this book was pretty on point.
Sadly, the same can’t be said about the horror. Considering the inspirations for this book (Something Wicked This Way Comes and the various Lovecraft shorts), I’m disappointed to say that there was only one scene that really had my hair standing on end, and even that was brief. I would have liked to see more of a focus on the horror aspect of the book, but I think if I’d gone into it expecting that, it wouldn’t have been quite so disappointing for me, so your mileage may vary.
I also had some issues with the end of the book. It felt rushed to me and a lot of plot threads that I thought deserved some time got wrapped up very quickly. It left me feeling unsatisfied and and somewhat disappointed, as those plotlines had been dealt with very well up until that point. Having them resolve in the matter of a few pages cheapened what could have been some very impactful moments of character development. This wasn’t enough to ruin the book for me, but I think 50 more pages or so would have brought this book’s score up considerably for me. It really is too bad when the aspects I don’t like in a book are so close to the end, as I can’t help but feel it colors my perception of the book’s quality up until that point, particularly when it’s a book I had been thoroughly enjoying.
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer was a fun book that I flew through. I think the way it told its story was clever and entertaining, as long as you don’t mind how close it stands to the stories that it takes its inspiration from. While I wish that a novel set in the same universe as the Cthulhu Mythos was at least a little scarier than this was, and I had some problems with the resolution of certain plot threads, I would recommend that everyone give this book a shot. At 291 pages it’s not a huge commitment, and you’ll know by about 25% whether it’s something you want to keep reading or not, so try it out and see for yourself.
Rating: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer – 7/10