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on 18 March 2017
The author certainly has an entertaining deft way with words. And whilst I often was amused by his turn of phrase, there were moments when I was just completely clueless.
I liked the premise of this - the deal with the devil. And there were several great chapters - Johannes visit to Hell a real highlight. But I thought the execution, the unfolding plot line was ill conceived.
There were a lot of ways to tell this story - I didn't like this choice. And Johannes as the anti-hero was a hard guy to like/empathise or even relate to.
Readable but not particularly likeable.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 July 2011
This was one of the most entertaining and enjoyable, laugh-a-page books I have read for a while. Johannes Cabal sold his soul to Satan and now he wants it back.

What I love about this book is that it promotes my view of Hell, which is that it's really rather a comical place to be, with a boss who changes the rules whenever he is want to do, which is most of the time.

In order to reclaim his soul, Johannes is set a challange by the devil, who of course has no intention of making anything easy. But with the reluctant help of his vampire brother, Johannes sees no reason why he can't play Satan at his own game, and win, even with all the little distractions sent to put him off along the way.

This book kept me turning the pages at a pace. Not was was I bored or tempted to skim. I loved the easy flowing syntax and constant humour on every page. A really good, light-hearted read with an unexpeccted twist of the tail at the very end.

Did I hear there was a sequel?
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on 17 May 2017
Greatly enjoyed this series, a unique style of writing and very strong characterisations, looking forward to the Fall of the House of Cabal in paperback, I really want to know who is waiting in the glass coffin.
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on 31 May 2017
Great book
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on 6 January 2015
“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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 September 2011
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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on 6 June 2011
I really liked the concept of the book, and was looking forward to a quirky, humorous, and off-centre tale. It starts well with a visit to Hell, and frankly never manages to hit that level again. The ingredients are there for a great book, but the characters and writing just isn't up to it.

Johannes gave his soul to Satan before the events in the book, and now want's it back. A challenge is set to collect 100 souls in exchange for his own. There's supposed to be a reveal at the end of the book as to why our protagonist is doing the things he does - relating to why he gave away his soul in the first place - but by the time we got to it I just didn't care. Johannes himself is at best a curious character - but it's impossible to engage with him emotionally because of the way he's written and the task he's doing. He's damning 100 other souls despite so obviously valuing his own - and yet doesn't seem to care, doesn't think about redemption of others, even at the very end I still didn't like him. He comes off as cold, and not even in an interesting way, he's selfish for far too long and even with the reveal I was left thinking these were the actions of a deluded little man who can't see past his own immediate problems.

Because it's impossible to care one way or the other about the main character (he's not likeable, but he's not a character to hate either) the entire of the book falls apart. The only character who was engaging in any empathetic was is Johannes' brother.

As for humour - I didn't read any. Whimsy, yes. Quirky descriptions, yes. Humour, not so much.
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on 13 January 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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on 8 February 2010
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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on 4 September 2011
Johannes Cabal sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the secrets of necromancy. A little later, he decides he wants his soul back. So he goes to Hell and asks. Satan tells him that if he can get 100 people to sign their souls over to him, Cabal gets his soul back. Cabal sets up a travelling carnival, gets the help of his older vampire brother Horst, conjures up some things as attractions and staff, and sets out/
The book is basically all of that happening. I like the idea behind it. It's not often we see people who have entered into a Faustian contract, decide they want out, skip the queues and the paperwork to get into hell, and makes a bet with the devil. A fun and original concept.
I like the little sidestories that document what happens at each stop on the way. It doesn't document the whole year, as that would take too long, but it gives you a very good idea of what happens at every stage.
I liked the characters. I think Horst Cabal was my favourite because of the way he handled his brother and the fact that said brother is trying to get 100 people to sign forms agreeing to eternal damnation. They were all well characterised and easy to distinguish. However, there were a few characters that appeared for about three pages, then were never heard of again. All right, these three pages described who they were and how they died, but still it would have been nice if they'd have been cleverly worked in somewhere along the line.
The humour in this seemed to come and go. It had a extremely funny opening, where Cabal summons a demon and has an arguement with it about how he should have correctly summoned it, with Cabal saying that the demon was there now and therefore it didn't matter, but then the humour died down, came back, and went and came back throughout. The writing was third person, kept the book going, but kept you slightly distanced from the characters.
With the ending there was, I'm not entirely sure how a sequel could be produced. However, there's a whole series, and I'll read book two some day.
Overall: strength 3 tea to an original and somewhat funny book.
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