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on 17 May 2017
Elegant development of some of the themes from the earlier stories in a singular environment.
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on 16 October 2011
Let's start off by saying I have read the other two books before this one and was already a fan going in to this third novel. There are other reviewers saying this book stands alone (if that's how you wish to read it) however I must recommend reading the others first.

There is a progression in character for Johannes Cabal through the books. It's a subtle change but enjoyable to see through the three novels. Then there will be the odd mention of a character or event from one of the past adventures. Though fans of the series may be sad to see certain characters not making a reappearance.

To be completely honest I don't know why anyone would read this first but perhaps others aren't as fussy when it comes to books as I am. And I suppose the three books all do seem to have their own "flavour" after all. The first, a mad race to beat the devil. The second, a murder mystery detective novel. Then this one, a boy's own adventure in to the strange dreamlands.

The fun of Johannes Cabal is, for me at least, in Johannes Cabal. A man that walks a fine line. He could be easily unlike-able but isn't. There's fun in reading his thoughts on whether or not to just shove his employers over a cliff and have the stupid adventure over and done with. Herr Cabal is a man not afraid to kill if it means having his way or not having to listen to someone's annoying chatter anymore. He's smarter than those around him which leads to a constant sarcastic tone.

The setting of the book, The Dreamlands, is a wonderful exercise of the imagination. The idea is that it is a land created by people's dreams. Time is subjective and things don't quite happen how you would expect them to. Witches live in graveyards and discuss your future, hermits live in far off cities when only they hold the answer.

The story is a fantastic journey and will have you laughing at Cabal's comments or the sheer joy of what's happening. As with the other books, I reached a point when I didn't want to stop reading. The final chapters especially were the highlight with the book going in interesting directions you may not have expected.

The only down side to the Kindle edition is with the map. The map is viewable but as with other Kindle books it doesn't lend itself to easily flicking to it if you're curious about where the characters are. It's not overly important to know but it's a shame there wasn't a version online that I could consult. (Perhaps the cloud Kindle reader holds the answer.)

If you're new to Johannes Cabal you can probably guess that I'll now recommend you to give the first book a try first and if you're already a fan what are you waiting for?
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on 4 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this rationally cautionary tale I detected an undercurrent of H.P. Lovecraft, with a slight eddy of M.R.James, not bad influences for any author indulging in otherworldly adventures.

Rudely disturbed by a trio of disreputable, yet strangely diffident, small-town businessmen intent on an excursion not altogether connected with the usual 'business' type of junket, our anti-hero leads his ill-assorted force on a mission into a landscape through which many of us, our author included I'll warrant, trek on a nightly basis.

Herr Cabal is apparently the very antithesis of his fellow travellers, although those whom they encounter populate the dreams of most of us, being not entirely unlike our celebrated and feared necromancer, nor I should imagine too unlike our inner selves, what say you to this Messrs Freud and Jung? It's enough to make you want to stay awake forever.

If nothing else our business gents are meticulous planners, every and any eventuality prepared (However ill) for, including 'Attack by Soft Furnishings'. How heartily I endorse such an expedient, having frequenly been assailed by airborne cushions intent upon cranial damage. Once I even found myself in the Constrictor-like grip of a behemoth of a velvet curtain which I was attempting to hang, however, it was bottle green which shows the potential to be a particularly aggressive colour. Strange behaviour nonetheless as cool colours are supposed to retreat not advance, I suppose I must have backed it into a corner.

The Dreamlands it transpires are not the only place replete with unusual, not to say bizarre, settlements and conurbations '...Arkham lies in a region of reality where the weft and warp have worn dangerously thin... people may think things they ought not, see things they ought not, and be seen by things that ought not to be.' Johannes Cabal, I ask, have you never visited Hebden Bridge?

On and on they go straining, plunging, ever onward, upward, downward, nowhere-ward, through a great many vicissitudes, vast clouds of obfuscation and typos until ultimately... Well! You'll just have to read the book won't you. Good luck and sleep tight.

As my copy was a pre-release proof I can only hope that any errors of grammar, syntax, and spelling will fall prey to the depredations of the Gug...er proof-reader and editor. Nonetheless, this was a hugely entertaining read, far better than that dreary Harry Potter and his gang of goody-goodies, and I shall not hesitate to accompany Herr Cabal upon his Machiavellian, not to say depraved, perigrinations once more.

H. P. Lovecraft Omnibus 1: At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels of Terror
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)
Ghost Stories (Vintage Classics)
The Complete Ghost Stories of M. R. James - Volume 1
Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)
10 Extreme Ghost Stories For Hardcore Horror Fans Only Illustrated (Ghost Stories & Hauntings)
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on 29 November 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Fear Institute is a story about the necromancer Johannes Cabal, who is commissioned to enter the world of dreams in order to seek out and kill the Phobic Animus, the embodiment of all the fear in the world. Of course, entering the world of dreams turns our seemingly objective world into an inconveniently subjective one. If you think something is going to happen, it just as likely will happen. And if you fear something, unfortunately there's a very good chance your fears will become reality (or whatever passes for reality in the world of dreams). Most inconveniently, the world of dreams is also the world of nightmares, leading to some encounters with some pretty imaginative monsters. And lots of ghouls.

Howard can write very well, which meant that as I read the first few chapters of The Fear Institute, chuckling to myself at the dry humour, I though I was onto a winner with this book. That feeling only strengthened as Cabal and his fellow fear-hunters entered the dream world - Howard's imagination is more than equal to the task of describing a subjective world made of dreams.

Sadly, though, the plot lets the book down. When you strip away the layers of imagination and wit that jump out at you from the page, the storyline is conventional and a bit boring. Cabal goes somewhere, fights some monsters/archly saves his companions from a terrible fate because his instincts for danger are so good/has a conversation with a god pretending to be a ghoul or something similar. The party moves on to the next place and the same thing happens, three or four times until suddenly they're where they've decided the Phobic Animus is, and the finale happens. I found myself losing interest in the second half of the book - and once that happened all the wit and imagination couldn't make me give this book any more than three stars.

Howard is a writer to watch and enjoy, but I hope he has a better book than this one in his back catalogue or up his sleeve.
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on 26 August 2011
I start with the admission that I am a Johannes Cabal fan. I follow him on Twitter. If I were not already married and he were not a fictional character I would marry him. He is an anti-hero of the deepest dye, duplicitous, selfish, and anti-social to the point of sociopathy. In this latest account of his adventures he leads an expedition into the Lovecraftian territory of the Dreamlands in pursuit of the Phobic Animus financed and manned by The Fear Institute. All - well practically nothing - is what it seems, and there are enough twists in the story to provide half a dozen ordinary plots with surprises... look at this chapter heading alone: In Which We Contemplate the Life and Death of Johannes Cabal... and yes we really do. But do not despair. A sequel (which I am already anticipating with trembling hope) is definitely possible. We meet ghouls, monsters, the Old Gods, spider monsters with angelic little faces, supercilious zebras and there is even a welcome reappearance of the psychotic fairies who infest Johannes Cabal's garden "Come into the garden Johannes Cabal!... We will help you in! We are you little friends!... And we won't eat you. Honest."
There are thrills. Laughter. Tears. And vicious but stupid crabs.
I am almost inclined to say this is the best Johannes Cabal book yet. Until the next one, I expect. Read it. You'll be hooked.
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on 4 December 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Part magic-fantasy, part steam-punk, part surrealist comedy, Johannes Cabal is a fascinating protagonist, a most unusual hero, not in the least bit (or, in fact, in any way) admirable or worthy, lacking almost all redeeming human qualities bar a fast intelligence and a fine, biting, bitchy sarcastic wit, he is a man with `several faults, several of which were also capital crimes'.

In many ways, it's a very visual novel; Jonathan L Howard's day job as a game-designer is very much to the fore. At times, The Fear Institute reads like the script for a super-elaborate, fantastically detailed, heavily back-story'd game. I'm not much of a gamer myself and this was, for me, the least successful aspect of this novel, mainly serving to over-complicate an already pretty complex storyline. I found my mind wandering a little during these bits - then having to go back and re-read what I'd missed because the intricately-stitched plot requires that you Stay Awake! at all times.

The plot is the least of it, however; it's the language, the humour, that raises this novel above the norm. For example:

`We has deck quoits,' said the second merchant gleefully, the only phrase in human speech it knew.
`Done then!' roared the first adventurer, confident that good voice projection and a waxed chest would see him through every predicament...

`Presumably waste is thereby conducted to some distant place where raining excrement is not regarded as unusual. Like Tartarus,' he guessed. `Or Ipswich.'

This is the third part of a trilogy, but it doesn't seem to matter much if you haven't read the previous novels. There were only a few occasions when I realised something was being alluded to from previous books, but The Fear Institute can easily be read as a stand-alone; it did make me want to read parts 1 and 2.

In short, it's a fast-moving, twisty-turny, timey-wimey, complicated, terribly (literally!) entertaining read, surreal and dark and - best of all - unremittingly and brilliantly funny. From the foreword (forget the warning. Read the book. Go insane. See if I care) to the cliff-hanger end - which isn't really an end, but the beginning of another novel - I was gripped and thrilled and laughing out loud.
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on 21 November 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Fantasy and science fiction are genres that can open the mind to all possibilities, but what happens when there are no rules? I have often found books set in an ephemeral or dreamlike world lack the required structure to work. Where is the sense of danger in a book, when an author can paint themselves out of any corner by merely saying, "And then the world changed"? This is exactly the issue with large chunks of `The Fear Institute' by Jonathan L Howard. Most is set in the world of dreams and for this entire segment anything can happen; and when anything can happen, why should we care what does?

There are very strong elements in `Fear' that are entirely undermined by the lack of rules the world offers. Johannes Cabal is a great character and his sarcastic and rather mean spirit is refreshing. Howard is also a good writer, you can tell as the sections set within the `real' world are far better. Cabal is the type of character who should be limited in what he can do and we as the reader should be aware of the rules of the environment. When these rules are missing, Cabal can do absolutely anything and there is far less fun in that. The ghoul scenes highlight what limiting a character can do; there is more real narrative and feeling in these 30 pages than the rest of the book combined.

`The Fear Institute' should and could have been a much better book. The character of Cabal is strong and his relationship with his `Earth' is very interesting. What undermined the book was the huge section set in an unabandoned world of nothing. More structure next time please Mr Howard.
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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't often give up half way through a book, but had to admit defeat with this one. It seemed entertaining enough - the marriage of comedy and fantasy seemed appealing and the main character (necromancer-on-a-quest Johannes Cabal) intriguing. The setting was imaginative and events skipped along at a fairly furious pace.

What defeated me in the end was the writing itself. It beins by being amusing, but after a couple of hundred pages (and this book runs to well over 400) it starts to grate. It's just too self-consciously knowing - as though the author is constantly nudging you and winking, like Eric Idle in that ancient Monty Python sketch. It's as if he doesn't trust his own jokes to be funny or clever by themselves, and constantly oversells them with too many qualifying adjectives and adverbs, overlong sentences and far, far too much supporting explanation. the book breaks that most important of novelist's rules - "show, don't tell". At every plot development I felt I was being told what to think, what to feel, how to react, when to laugh. And in the end, it just got too much.

A shame - because this book had much else to recommend it. It's the first of this series I'd come across, so perhaps other readers will be more attuned to the peculiar writing style.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Jonathan' Howard's fictional creation, Johannes Cabal was new to me and, starting off reading this third in a series of books, I wondered whether this might prove problematic. As it is the story stands alone and proves to be an exhilirating fantastical romp peppered with monsters,hallucinations and lots of blood! This jolly concoction has our hero, Johannes Cabal, journeying to the Dreamlands in search of the essence of Fear itself.

Jonathan Howard is a master of language and witty with it, so his flights of fancy are highly entertaining. With literary allusions scattered here and there, I found myself delighted again and again by a neat turn of phrase or a fanciful digression from this engaging author.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that our hero, is that in name only, being someone who thinks nothing of bumping off people who stand in his way. A delightfully dark character. Fans of Cabal's previous adventures will need no recommendation for this third book, and for newcomers it can by very highly recommended.
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on 11 January 2012
Johannes Cabal novels just keep getting better. While I liked them all, in the first one he was a touch too maudlin for my taste, and in the second one he fully found his delightful sarcastic self but I thought the detective story a bit boring. In this one however, we experience Johannes at his sarcastic best, together with a great story line. I absolutely love his attitude as well as the incredible amount of lovely nasty offhand one-liner comments (other reviewers have quoted some).

I really liked how different the 3 Johannes Cabal books were - the first one while funny had quite a lot of tragic undertones, the second was a genuine detective story, and this one is a merry tale heavily playing with the worlds of H.P.Lovecraft. I'm really hoping there's more Johannes Cabal books coming.
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