Way back in April of 2012, I never would have thought that a necromancer of some little infamy would manage to worm his way into my heart with his sour personality and misanthropic tendencies. Honestly, I wasn't even sure that I would actually pick up the book in the first place. I mean, I enjoy a good old fashion Faustian tale, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to spend my precious free-time reading about a man who sells his soul to Satan, and then must collect 100 souls for the devil in order to win his own soul back. But, after picking up the book a few times over the course of a month, flipping through the pages, reading the dust jacket, agonizing about the moral implications, I checked it out. And on a quiet college weekend, when all my friends had gone home, I read it over my bacon and eggs, and was completely hooked within two or three pages.
I've written about Johannes Cabal the Necromancer before, so if you're interested in reading that review, you can find it here.
In the time since I read Necromancer, I've practically devoured the rest of the series (Johannes Cabal the Detective and The Fear Institute, as well as short stories Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day, Exeunt Demon King, The House of Gears, and The Death of Me). I only have one story left: The Ereshkigal Working, and I've managed to locate the anthology it's included in, and it's coming in from the library. **As a side note, if you're interested in reading any of the stories, I've included a link to House of Gears and The Death of Me, which can be read online for free. The other stories, with the exception of The Ereshkigal Working can be purchased for the Kindle at Amazon.com.**
There's so much I can say about this series, but I think I'll keep it somewhat short. Quite simply, these books are a lot of fun. After selling his soul in the first book, Johannes also becomes involved in political upheaval, is nearly eaten by a meteorological monster, gets chased by mobs and ghouls, and tries to discover the entity that is responsible for all fear.
Jonathan L. Howard has a beautiful writing style that is quick, precise, and sharp as a knife. His analogies and figures of speech are fresh and completely original. When I'm reading a Johannes Cabal story, I'm always pleasantly surprised by the tasty little details. For example, anyone can be seasick. But, only a Jonathan L. Howard character would throw up as though he meant to do it. Anyone can have a KEEP OUT sign on the front lawn, but only Johannes Cabal would have a sign which says that Trespassers would not be prosecuted, but eaten. By the things in the garden. Whaaaa?
Honestly, the best part of the stories are the characters. Johannes is a character that honestly no one should like. He's callous, selfish, and manipulative. Besides, he's a misanthropic necromancer, robbing graves and (at least in the first book) stealing souls. If I had met this man in person, there's certainly no way I'd want to be friends with him. He's kind of a jerk.
But, Howard paints a character as miserable as Johannes as someone deeply flawed, but with a rich character. After having read as many stories as I have, there has been a delightful story and character arc. This is not simply a passive villain, but a character who feels lifelike and full of depth. After book one, I wouldn't have wanted to be this guy's friend, but after reading a few more stories, I think that if I had Johannes word that the front garden wouldn't eat me, I would be willing to share a cup of tea at his house. (A similar storyline is pursued in Exeunt Demon King).
What I like is that Johannes, in any other story, told by any other character, would have been a delightful villain. Just take Leonie Barrow, his "nemesis" in the first two books. If this was her story, then there would be nothing redeemable about Cabal. But, this isn't her story. It's Cabal's. And that's his saving grace. Instead of a pure villain, the reader is treated to a deep, three-dimensional anti-hero; a man who continues to surpass everything we have come to believe about him based on the facts at hand. He's so incredibly human. He's powerful, but he's also vulnerable. He's mechanical, but he has a heart. He's one of the greatest characters I've encountered in literature in a long, long while.
But, I certainly wouldn't say that Cabal is soft. He's incredibly dangerous. And sarcastic. And unpredictable. And he would be completely ineffective without a wonderful supporting cast. In a sense, he's a gun (a Webley .577 to be exact) without bullets. On his own, he may be intimidating, but he's certainly ineffectual. Most of these supporting cast members are just funny little critters Cabal encounters; sprites, ghosts, demons, etc. But, some are deserving of actual names and character arcs themselves. Horst Cabal is a personal favorite of mine (the man on the left in the group photo). He's Johannes's older brother, and a great foil to the character. While Johannes tends to scare off small children by looking at them, Horst is incredibly charismatic. He's sweet, and charming and funny. Of course, this makes for some excellent tension. And of course, Leonie Barrow is another wonderful foil for Cabal. (She's the girl in the group picture, between Horst and Johannes.) Every misanthropic necromancer needs a girl who is a breath of fresh air, but too independent to fall into the pit of LOVE INTEREST. I'm not saying she's one of the those scary feminist characters who hate all men, but she's strong and independent and a wonderfully written female character.
I'm going to stop here, before I start writing in too many spoilers or write my back into a corner. Besides, this post could get really long really fast.
I'm sorry for ranting, but I've just read a novel and four short stories in less than a month, all circling around this one series. And I've been loving it. I actually checked book 1 out again at the library, thinking I could give the series another go from the beginning. Alternately, I could pick up that Christmas gift card my cousin Abby gave me for Barnes and Noble. With $25 dollars, I could at least by one, maybe 1.5 of the books if I got them in paperback.
I was telling The Brother that there hasn't been a series I've gotten into so wholeheartedly in a long time. Jonathan L. Howard knows how to scratch me right where I itch (as both a writer and a reader). I actually intend to email him once I get my hands on the last short story. If all goes well, I'll tell you guys about that in what I hope will only be a few weeks.
Anyways, for now I'm going to let you go, but I'd be happy to clarify any confusion and answer any of your questions about the series. Happy Reading!