Johannes Cabal the Necromancer — Review by Chris

Johannes Cabal isn't your typical necromancer, if such a thing exists. First of all, he's a little unconventional (and the opening chapter will give you a clue). Second, he doesn't give a damn about what Satan thinks, wants or expects. Third, he'll get his soul back at any cost — no matter what's thrown at him.

In the spirit of Christopher Moore, Jonathan L. Howard crafted a clever, funny and unique book about life, death and everything else in between, courtesy of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

In this debut novel, Cabal has taken a road less traveled. He's become a necromancer, not a typical career choice in England (or anywhere else on the planet). He's taken the additional step of trying to ensure his success by selling his soul to Satan to succeed at this endeavor.

Alas, he's learned that lacking a soul throws a necromancer's experiments off just enough to mess up the works. Like a stomping baker, everything Johannes attempts falls flat.

He isn't going to take this lying down. He makes a wager with the Big Guy (Down Under): he will bring Satan 100 souls in a year's time or he loses his soul. Forever. Again. In nasty ways.

Knowing Satan doesn't make a bet he can't win, Johannes takes the wager and finds himself saddled with a traveling carnival. In a word, "Eeeeew." If you were skeeved by human carnies, the folks on this train will keep you awake at night — but in a humorous way.

This book could have been dark and foreboding, brooding and wicked. Instead, it careens toward the dark, nicks just enough to make it interesting, then puts a different spin on the story.

Take Horst. He's Cabal's brother, but he's so much more. He's a vampire, but he's not without some morals. He knows his brother (better than one imagines) and has, as brothers are wont to do, seen his brother at his worst and best. Horst is brought on because (a) he will play along and (2) he knows what people want. And he does, to an extent — he can recognize a damned soul from a hundred paces, and he knows what attracts them. But does he play along, really? What does it take, and what would it cost?

Horst is not alone. Johannes is surrounded by an interesting collection of creatures who know their roles and their positions. They know their jobs and they perform them well. The characters Johannes meets along the way make the tale intriguing in surprising ways.

Can Johannes collect a hundred souls with a ragtag carnival inconceivable to the Prince of Darkness himself? Can he do it without losing any more of what makes him a man? Can he use his talent to gain his talent? Can anyone beat Satan at his own game?

With wit and surprises, laughs and truly incredible moments, Howard crafts a compelling and entertaining story. I was captured by the first scene and riveted before I reached the end of the first chapter. I cared: about Horst, Cabal, Bones, the Laytex Lady — even the criminally insane escapees. The story unfolded with grace and precision, and I enjoyed it greatly. The carnival was reminiscent of (but nowhere near as dark and evil as) Ray Bradbury's classic Something Wicked This Way Comes, whom Howard credits in the book's acknowledgements.

Rumor has it that there is a sequel planned. I'm glad, in part because I really need the end explained to me — and a second book is a lovely way to do it.

Pick up this book, and thank Emily at Borders for the recommendation. (I already did.)

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