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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A damn near perfect book
Johannes Cabal, a brilliant scientist and notorious snob, is obsessed with raising the dead. Tormented by a dark and harrowing secret, he travels to the fiery pits of hell to retrieve his soul, long ago sold to the Devil. Satan, incredibly bored and hungry for a challenge, proposes a little wager: Johannes has one year to persuade one hundred people to sign over their...
Published on 8 Feb 2010 by A. L. Rutter

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Deal with the Devil in More Ways Than One
When a book begins with a visit to Hell which outs the ghastly gates as anticipated by a painstakingly organised bureaucracy boasting a tree's worth of paperwork per person and three year-long wait for entry, you know you're in for an untraditional experience. In short order, Johannes Cabal, necromancer extraordinaire, breaches the red tape seeking an audience with Satan...
Published on 18 Aug 2010 by Niall Alexander


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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A damn near perfect book, 8 Feb 2010
By 
A. L. Rutter "Floor to Ceiling Books" (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
Johannes Cabal, a brilliant scientist and notorious snob, is obsessed with raising the dead. Tormented by a dark and harrowing secret, he travels to the fiery pits of hell to retrieve his soul, long ago sold to the Devil. Satan, incredibly bored and hungry for a challenge, proposes a little wager: Johannes has one year to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will lose his forever. To keep things interesting, Satan generously throws in a traveling carnival to help Johannes collect on the bargain. With little time to lose, Johannes raises a crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire, to be his right-hand man. Once on the road, Johannes and his troupe of reprobates cause mayhem at every stop. But are his tricks enough to beat the Devil at his own game?

From the blurb above, so far this book sounds like Tom Holt, or Terry Pratchett, or any other comedic fantasy author, right? No, definitely not! Jonathan L. Howard infuses Johannes Cabal the Necromancer with flavours from other authors and from films, but the book as a whole is unique and very, very funny. It has the same gruesome humor as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, but remains distinctive through the use of snappy one-liners and characters you'll love to hate.

The pacing is perfect. We start with an entertaining visit to Hell (a bureaucratic nightmare, with a pen-pushing clerk as a doorman). Then, the plot kicks into a higher gear and sweeps through a year of thrilling adventures as Johannes Cabal attempts to win his wager with Satan by running a twisted carnival. Howard gives us a sample of Cabal's attempts to collect souls, but doesn't overdo this aspect of the novel. He still spends time on character development and on other escapades, so that the reader never becomes bored.

Though Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is pitched mainly as comedic fantasy, it contains some extremely spine-tingling and creepy moments, especially the whole scene in the Druin crypt. Howard also takes us to some darker places. We watch with horror as a young lad is enticed to sign his soul away, and as a young mother is encouraged to commit infanticide.

Over the course of the novel we learn that Johannes Cabal is a Very Bad Man, yet he remains endearing to the reader. From his inept social skills to his way with sarcasm, Cabal shines from every page. In particular, his exchanges with his brother Horst virtually crackle with snark:

"Given my profession, being careful is what separates the successes from the failures."
"Ha! What makes you think you're such a success, Johannes?"
"Because I'm not tied to a post, up to my knees in bonfire."

The other characters are just as memorable, from the dozy zombie pair Dennis and Denzil who drive the train, to Bobbins, one of Cabal's nefarious creations ("...the result of some of Cabal's tinkering with the basic `a rag, a bone, a hank of hair' formula; in this case by the addition of a tin of Brasso metal polish. As a result everything that Bobbins did, he did brightly").

The only disappointment is that the world building is almost non-existent. We never learn whether this is a bizarre alternate version of our world, or if it's another world entirely. Howard focuses so tightly on his fabulous mix of characters, and on building the carnival into an entity that lives and breathes, that we do not see anything beyond this. I would love to see more of the world that Howard has created.

Luckily, it appears that a second novel in this series is on the way, which I now look forward to with great excitement. This is the sort of book that, having finished it -- even in the wee small hours of the morning -- you want to wake up all your friends and insist they begin it immediately. In fact, I insist you all go and grab a copy -- now!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strangely Brilliant, 13 Jan 2012
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
I can't really extend my review past the two words I used in the title - this book is quite simply strange yet brilliant.

The book is cast with a bizarre set of flawlessly moulded characters straight out of a Tim Burton fairy tale, but Howard's clever descriptions and hooking plot lines really showcase his mad troupe of personas. Johannes Cabal himself is the perfect anti-hero: slimy and cheap enough to hate, but witty and clever enough to love.

The plot itself is simple enough, but is astutely intercepted with snippets of sheer genius. Howard strikes the perfect balance of a strong, clear yet humourous plot line. At times it will have you crying with laughter, and screaming at the ink in fury at others, but the overall result is a well-crafted and brilliant read. A must read for any fantasy lover, or a great place to start for those new to the genre!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely charming, 13 Sep 2011
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
After reading The Fear Institute at a frantic pace, I picked this up straight away & read it in a matter of days. And now I'm speeding my way through book 2, unable to put that down either!

In times past, the infamous necromancer Cabal sold his soul to Satan in exchange for knowledge - knowledge to further his researches into conquering death. He has since found that owning a soul is necessary for his work, so somewhat dispassionately makes a further deal with the devil - if he can get 100 people to sign away their souls within a year, his own will be returned to him. And just to make things interesting, Satan provides him with an infernal carnival to help tempt the unsuspecting. This would be a wretched task for anyone but since Cabal's moral compass no longer points North, it's easier for him than most people - but Satan's determined not to make it too straightforward.

This charming book brings to mind a darker, more adult Terry Pratchett, combined with some very thorny ethical dilemmas. Like a vampire, it weaves a seductive charm but after a while, throws some unexpectedly thorny moral dillemas your way. Funny & thought-provoking with an iconic main character, this book is difficult to put down & constantly entertaining, with a couple of subtle references to H.P. Lovecraft - hints of things to come in book 3, which is set in a world realised by the master of eldrich fiction. It's unique, darkly amusing & very compelling.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars witty jack vanceish novel, 13 Oct 2010
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
I thought that this was an amusing and clever supernatural comedy. The hero, if that's the word, pits his wits (with varying degrees of success) against a variety of antagonists, including the Devil himself, and deals with a variety of perplexing situations. Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever is maybe the original of the Cabal character, with Vance's "Eyes of the Overworld" surely being the defining novel of this type, but Johannes Cabal is a good imitation, nearly matching Cugel for cynicism, and the book isn't without depth, including pathos, or even tragedy, which Vance doesn't really do. Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faust never had it so good, 14 Jun 2009
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
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A modern audience is always looking for something new to enjoy so when this offering (or perhaps sacrifice might be the better term) landed, the book blurb told me something special was going to happen. Part Necromantic adventure, part comedy and part Faustian challenge this tale takes the best that all have to offer and brings it together in such a way that the reader will easily be enchanted within Howard's snare.

But will the baser aspects of Cabal overrule his higher senses or is everything fair game in his pursuit of knowledge, a novel that will keep you guessing to the last page and one that will have you at times loving the protagonist or even loathing him in equal measure. Definitely a novel that I'm recommending as it was a pure joy to read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Treat, 18 Mar 2010
By 
IM Research (East Anglia, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
What an unexpected find this book was! I admit I got it as a bit of an afterthought when selecting my latest pile of fiction - as I don't often browse in the 'fantasy' genre - but this was the stand-out book amongst my varied purchases. Many authors have either a good story, good characters, or a good grasp of humour, but it's rare to find all three in the same place - Johannes Cabal the Necromancer has them in spades.

Engaging, intelligent, witty, dark, light yet not shallow, clever and memorable. More fun than a ride on a train full of evil carnies!

My main hope now is that there will be many more Johannes Cabal books to come.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An utter delight, 27 Aug 2009
By 
Amazon Customer (UK) - See all my reviews
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A jolly entertaining romp as Johannes Cabal penetrates Hell to recover his own soul. A dark, witty tale of magic and mayhem and evil being outwitted by... well, more evil.

There is, at the end, an obvious 'to be continued' but it doesn't spoil the tale.

this necromancer
bargains with Old Nick again --
with diverse humours
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Deal with the Devil in More Ways Than One, 18 Aug 2010
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
When a book begins with a visit to Hell which outs the ghastly gates as anticipated by a painstakingly organised bureaucracy boasting a tree's worth of paperwork per person and three year-long wait for entry, you know you're in for an untraditional experience. In short order, Johannes Cabal, necromancer extraordinaire, breaches the red tape seeking an audience with Satan - and by the hair on my chinny chin-chin, he gets one. The pair struck a bargain years ago, you see, whereby our reanimating anti-hero sold his soul for a taste of forbidden fruit, but Cabal has since had time to reconsider the deal. So he's come to Hell to renegotiate the terms of his contract with Satan. Easier said than does, one imagines...

Eventually, however, Satan acquiesces. But he has his conditions - of course he does. A new contract is drawn up, stipulating that Cabal will recover his immortal soul when and only when he collects, in the space of a single year, the signatures of a hundred individuals; his soul for a hundred others, in short. To help him wrangle together so many souls, Satan gives Cabal command of a travelling carnival of the damned and a viscous ball of blood. The necromancer is then summarily ejected from the premises, with nothing to do but get his show on the road.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is Jonathan L. Howard's debut novel, but hardly his first time at the helm of such a creative endeavour. Howard has been puttering away behind the scenes of the video game industry for decades, as a programmer, a designer, and latterly a script writer. He's perhaps best known for his work on the Broken Sword series: adventures games a la The Secret of Monkey Island mode mostly concerned with Templar conspiracies. Now I'm a fan of the Broken Sword franchise, but not such a die-hard as to assert it's either the smartest adventure game around or the funniest. Nevertheless, on the basis of Howard's involvement with the first three installments of that series, I came to Johannes Cabal the Necromancer expecting a rollicking good time full of wit and absurdity.

Particularly on that latter count, Johannes Cabal's first outing - soon to be superseded, I understand, by his time as a detective - delivers in abundance. Cabal's excursion to a pocket quantum universe stands out, alongside his time in a haunted train station that bleeds depression into the atmosphere, and a chase around the carnival that culminates in an encounter with Layla the Latex Lady. There are moments of absolute madness throughout Johannes Cabal the Necromancer - the highlights of the whole affair - where the weird meets the wonderful and the fallout is appropriately baffling.

Sadly, absurdity does not always equal fun, and there are as many misses in Howard's debut as hits. Humour is a very personal thing, of course - you can't expect everyone to crack up at the same jokes - but after a strong start, you get the distinct sense that the comic aspect of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer has been put on the back-burner to be replaced by episodic encounters that bear little to no relevance on the narrative's driving force, which is to say the collection of a hundred souls by hook or by crook. I'd go so far as to say many of the chapters of this novel would be better set as short stories. They're pleasant diversions, one and all, but as part of a larger tapestry they do little to enrich the experience entire.

Let's face it, though: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer has few pretensions to intricate narrative. Above all else, it's a romp. As such, it's a success, albeit not quite so hilarious a one as I had hoped. Cabal is a brilliantly love-him-or-hate-him guide on a whistle-stop tour of the underworld, an anti-hero of the highest order whose acerbic wit makes some truly stomach-churning subjects tolerable. Howard, meanwhile, seems to have found his calling in genre fiction. Fun but ultimately rather forgettable, not everything about Johannes Cabal the Necromancer works, but when something does, it works on a level that surpasses many of the functional encounters in the video games Howard cut his literary teeth on. Darkly whimsical and wonderfully absurd, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer makes for a good start to a series that could well be great. If the reveal on the last page of this first book is anything to go by, in fact - an emotional surprise that gives depth and context to all that's come before - the best truly is yet to come.

Here's hoping.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like dry wit and weird invention..., 25 Jun 2009
A hugely enjoyable surreal romp, full of twists and quips and wonderfully imaginative detail. The novel's extremely well-written - a pleasure to read in that sense alone - but the black humour's a special treat all of its own. The narrative pace never slackens, and the characters are a joy. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very mildly amusing, 30 April 2010
This review is from: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Paperback)
As a comic fantasy fan I was disappointed with this one. The pace seemed on the slow side and some of the humour felt just a little too forced. However, humour is a very personal thing and some people will probably find it laugh-out-loud funny but with me it only raised the odd smile. Something about the scenes didn't always gel the way they should have doen. I felt that the fantasy "world" I was in wasn't consistent, and consequently as the story rolled along it kept hitting pot-holes which played havoc with my suspension of disbelief...
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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard (Paperback - 4 Feb 2010)
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