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25 of 28 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

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A hugely enjoyable book let down by its protagonist
I will start this review by stating just how well this book has been written. It is witty, the dialogue is sharp and the imagination behind it has served up the kind of writing that I normally love to read about... with one exception.

Sadly, the reason why I couldn't get into this book was because of the insanely-unsympathetic protagonist. No matter how much I...
Published 11 days ago by GOTTON


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25 of 28 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)   
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
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 Sept. 2011
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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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
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Carnival, 6 Jan. 2015
By 
Mr. C. Horner "hierath" (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
“The Necromancer” is Jonathan L Howard’s debut novel, published back in 2009 and the first in an expanding series to feature Johannes Cabal, our titular necromancer, and his undead-but-charming brother Horst.

We begin with a season in Hell. Hell in this case, being the kind of insane pen-pushing bureaucracy that would give a Vogon squelchy dreams. Cabal has no time for bureaucracy. What he does have is a rather large gun, and a mission – to get his soul back so he can continue his mysterious Great Work. He sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the powers of necromancy, and now he wants it back.

But the Devil would not be out of place running a Vegas blackjack house, and everyone knows you can never win against the house. He sets Cabal a task, to collect 100 souls for Satan in exchange for the return of his own. And to help Cabal achieve this, he’s going to give him something to help him out and even the odds.

A carnival.

Yes, a bona-fide travelling fairground complete with sideshows, freaks and a demonic steam train to move it all around in. Cabal has a year to move his fairground around the country collecting as many souls as he can before time runs out and he loses his own soul forever.

If this all sounds like it could be from a game, well, yes. The narrative does owe a debt to Howard’s background as a games designer, but it also, and the author confesses it himself, owes something to Ray Bradbury’s other-worldly carnival in “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Which is no bad thing. Howard revels in the grotesque, the weird, and the theatrical much the same way Kim Lakin-Smith does in Cyber Circus, but while that was a dark and in places unsettling book, “The Necromancer” has a wry, warped sense of humour running though it, particularly in the meticulous Cabal’s interactions with both his brother and the recently-undeceased staff running his dark carnival.

The humour won’t be for everyone. In places it comes across as too clever for its own good, and comic fantasy can be hit or miss. Howard’s writing is an acquired taste, but fans of Pratchett and Jasper fforde will lap it up. And Cabal is, at least at first, a difficult protagonist to like, outshone at every turn by his more charming vampiric brother Horst, who reluctantly agrees to help him in his quest despite Johannes sealing him in a tomb for eight years after an earlier adventure went wrong. However, persist with it and the fractured humanity of the necromancer begins to seep through in little glimpses, notably in an affecting scene set in an abandoned and haunted station. Johannes Cabal does bad things, but it turns out he’s not such a bad guy, driven into conflict with his better instincts by his overwhelming desire to reclaim his soul. And the reason behind that desire is kept for a delicious twist right at the end of the book, so subtly telegraphed the reader almost doesn’t see it coming, but making perfect sense when it arrives.

It’s a clever book, arch and knowing, funny in places but more inclined to raise a wry chuckle than a roar of laughter. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, and beneath the veneer of wit and cynicism, at the core of the story there’s a little kernel of gold.

Like I said, not for everyone, but worth sticking with. You might find you enjoy it more than you thought you would. Give it a whirl!
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3.0 out of 5 stars A hugely enjoyable book let down by its protagonist, 18 Jan. 2015
I will start this review by stating just how well this book has been written. It is witty, the dialogue is sharp and the imagination behind it has served up the kind of writing that I normally love to read about... with one exception.

Sadly, the reason why I couldn't get into this book was because of the insanely-unsympathetic protagonist. No matter how much I wanted to like Johannes Cabal and root for his cause, I find it impossible to grow attached to a character who's primary goal in this book is to condemn a hundred souls to hell and eternal torment.

Maybe if he had only gone after souls who were cut and dry evil I might have been able to get on board, but when a lot of the people he got to sign their souls away were just borderline sinners, I found it a hard pill to swallow. At one point in the book a case of infanticide was used as leverage to get a soul, and that is not something I can get behind in a character even in a fictional novel that was at times as funny as this.

So sadly at the end of the novel, even with the expected twist and the final unveiling of the motivation behind all of the acts in this book there was still nothing that redeemed the protagonist in my eyes. However, as I have stated this book is incredibly well written and I am sure that I will read other works by this author in the future, just maybe not with the same protagonist.
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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
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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
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
(VINE VOICE)   
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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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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