Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

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Press:Doubleday Doubleday; 1st edition (July 7, 2009)
Publication Date:2009-07-07
ISBN:9780385528085
Author Name:Jonathan L. Howard
Pages:304
Language:English

Content

A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.   Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. 
Now he wants it back.
Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever.
This time for real.
Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task.
With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

From Publishers Weekly

When Johannes Cabal, a haughty sorcerer, finds that the absence of a soul is an impediment to his occult studies, he strikes a bargain with Satan in British author Howard's darkly funny debut: in one year's time he'll deliver the bartered souls of 100 unfortunates so that he might repossess his own. 
Cabal and his vampire brother, Horst, mount a traveling carnival to scour the countryside for men and women desperate enough to consign their souls to an infernal eternity for whatever will relieve their misery of the moment.
Cabal proves marginally competent but maximally amusing in his dealings with a competing necromancer, an asylum of escaped lunatics and a staff of slowly decomposing carnies conjured from the dead.
Howard capably synthesizes two classic themes of macabre fiction—the pact with the devil and the dark carnival—but the book's episodic structure and unconvincing ending betray it as a freshman effort.
Still, Howard's ear for witty banter and his skill at rendering black comedy bode well for the future.
(July) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
All rights reserved.

Review

 “Witty, inventive, and thoroughly entertaining, this rollicking Faustian adventure grabs the reader and holds him until the very last page.” --Tucson Citizen "The spot-on work of a talented writer." --Denver Post  “Howard makes it look easy to paint a soul-stealing murdering necromancer as a sympathetic character; that, folks, is worth the price of admission. 
Step right up!” —San Diego Union-Tribune “For anyone whose taste edges towards the intelligent and macabre, this book is a gift." —Fangoria “Amusing and clever.”—The Free-lance Star   “Populated with some of the most creative, and odd, characters to be found .
.
.
hysterical and fascinating.”—Bookgeeks "A delightfully wicked and inventive story." --Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child “Cross Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr.
Norrell with Gregory Maguire's Wicked, and you have this witty and sometimes touching debut novel in the Faustian tradition.”—Library Journal  “That ole black magic has never been more fun than it is in this deft and quirky Faustian take.
A diabolical romp.” —Elle Newmark, author of The Book of Unholy Mischief

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jonathan L. 
Howard is a game designer and scriptwriter who has worked in the computer games industry since the early nineties, notably co-scripting the first three Broken Sword adventure games.
This is his first novel.
He lives near Bristol with his wife and daughter.   Johannes Cabal is a necromancer of some little infamy, who has been digging up bodies without permission for several years now.
His first appearance in print was in the short story “Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day,” published in the premier issue of H.P.
Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror.
Where he lives is none of your verdammt business.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1 * in which a scientist visits hell and a deal is struckWalpurgisnacht, the Hexennacht. 
The last night of April.
The night of witches, when evil walks abroad.He stood at a desolate and lonely place where there would be no interruption, no prying eyes.
The air smelled metallic with freshly spilt blood; the body of a decapitated virgin kid goat lay nearby.
He had no alloyed metal about him but for a thin-bladed sword of fine steel he held in his right hand; that arm was naked, his shirt sleeve rolled up to the biceps.
A silver coin wrapped in paper nestled in his waistcoat pocket.
Before him burned a fire of white wood.His name was Johannes Cabal, and he was summoning a demon.".
.
.
Oarios! Almoazin! Arios! Membrot!" The chanted names faded into the unusually still night air.
Only the crackling of the fire accompanied him.
"Janna! Etitnamus! Zariatnatmix .
.
.
and so on." He drew a deep breath and sighed, bored with the ritual.
"A.
E.
A.
J.
A.
T.
M.
O.
.
.
."There was hidden meaning in the names he must call, the letters he must chant.
That didn't mean he had to approve or even be impressed by them.
As he recited the Grand Conjuration, he thought that some magicians might have better served the world by writing crossword puzzles.Then space distorted, and he was no longer alone.The demon's name was Lucifuge Rofocale.
He stood a little taller than Cabal's six feet, but the bizarre fool's cap he wore--three flopping horns, or perhaps tentacles, ending with arrowheads--made his height vary from moment to moment.
In one hand he held a bag containing, at least symbolically, the riches of the world.
In the other, a golden hoop.
He wore a segmented, studded leather skirt rather like a Roman soldier's.
Beneath it, _fur-_covered legs ended in hooves.
He had a fat anteater's tail, and a silly little Hercule Poirot moustache.
As is often the case with demons, Lucifuge looked like an anatomical game of Consequences."Lo!" cried the demon.
"I am here! What dost thou seek of me? Why dost thou disturb my repose? Smite me no more with that dread rod!" He looked at Cabal.
"Where's your dread rod?""I left it at home," replied Cabal.
"Didn't think I really needed it.""You can't summon me without a dread rod!" said Lucifuge, appalled."You're here, aren't you?""Well, yes, but under false pretences.
You haven't got a goatskin or two vervain crowns or two candles of virgin wax made by a virgin girl and duly blessed.
Have you got the stone called Ematille?""I don't even know what Ematille is."Neither did the demon.
He dropped the subject and moved on.
"Four nails from the coffin of a dead child?""Don't be fatuous.""Half a bottle of brandy?""I don't drink brandy.""It's not for you.""I have a hip flask," said Cabal, and threw it to him.
The demon caught it and took a dram."Cheers," said Lucifuge, and threw it back.
They regarded each other for a long moment.
"This really is a shambles," the demon added finally.
"What did you summon me for, anyway?"The Gates of Hell are an impressive structure.
A great adamantine finger of rock a mile in diameter and two miles high punches through the surface of the cracked and baking desert plain of Limbo.
On one side of this impenetrable edifice are the Gates themselves: massive iron constructions hundreds of feet wide and a thousand high.
Their rough, barely worked surfaces are pocked and pitted with great bolts driven through in ragged lines, huge bands of brass running across in uneven ranks.
One could be forgiven for thinking Hell's a popular place to get into.Perhaps surprisingly, it is.On the outside, one wonders what happens once you pass through that terrible, cruel portal.
Some believe that all Hell is somehow crammed within the rock, a place where dimensions mean nothing.
Others say that immediately beyond the Gates, within the hollowed rock, is a great chasm that opens into the pit of Hell, and that those stepping within must surely plunge straight to their eternal dooms.
Others believe that the rock conceals the top of a very big escalator.
Nobody on the outside knows for sure, but everyone wants to find out, and they want to find out because anything--anything--is better than the forms.Lots of forms.
Stacks of forms.
An average of nine thousand, seven hundred, and forty-seven of them were required to gain entrance to Hell.
The largest form ran to fifteen thousand, four hundred, and ninety-seven questions.
The shortest to just five, but five of such subtle phraseology, labyrinthine grammar, and malicious ambiguity that, released into the mortal world, they would certainly have formed the basis of a new religion or, at the least, a management course.This, then, was the first torment of Hell, as engineered by the soul of a bank clerk.Nobody had to fill in the forms, of course.
But, given that the _alternative was eternity spent naked in an endless desert that has never known night, most people found themselves sooner or later queuing up at the small porter's door set into one of Hell's Gates.
There they would receive a form entitled "Infernal Regions (Local Authority) Hades Admission Application--Provisional (AAAA/342)" and a soft pencil.Congas of hopeful applicants wound around the gatehouse like a line drawn by somebody wanting to find out how much writing you could get out of a box of ballpoints.
The formerly quiet desert hummed to a steady drone of sub-vocalised reading and flipped pages.
New arrivals and old hands queued patiently at the porter's door to hand in and receive forms.
The quickest route through the paper trail necessitated the completion of two thousand, seven hundred, and _eighty-_five, but nobody had yet fulfilled the extremely narrow conditions that would permit such a speedy passage.
Most could anticipate three or four times as many, not counting forms rejected for mistakes; the hand-picked team of administrative imps that dealt with admissions didn't like errors at all, nor did they issue erasers.Through the muttering crowds, stepping over form-fillers and never pausing to apologise, came a pale man.
Johannes Cabal was walking to Hell.Tow-headed, lean, in his late twenties, but with any spirit of that youth long since evaporated, Cabal seemed otherwise unremarkable except for his air of intent, his unwavering advance on the gatehouse, and his clothes."Hey, watch it!" barked Al Capone, wrestling with the spelling of "venereal," as Cabal stepped over him.
"Why don't you just .
.
." The protest died on his lips.
"Hey .
.
.
Hey! That guy's dressed! He's got clothes!"That guy did, indeed, have clothes.
A short black frock coat, slouch-brimmed black hat, black trousers, black shoes, a white shirt, and a tidy black cravat.
He wore dark-blue tinted glasses with side-baffles, and he carried a black gladstone bag.
Unexciting clothes, but clothes nonetheless.It was the first sensation that the desert had ever experienced.
The damned parted before Cabal, who, in his turn, seemed to accept this as his due.
Some excitedly speculated that he must be a messenger from the Other Place, that the end times had finally arrived.
Others pointed out that nothing in Revelation referred to a man in a black hat and sensible shoes.Cabal walked directly to the porter's door and slammed his hand on the closed window.
While he waited for a reply, he looked about him, and the damned withered beneath his soulless and impassive gaze.The window snapped open."What do ye want?" demanded a weasely man wearing a teller's shade from the other side, a man named Arthur Trubshaw.Sartre said that Hell was other people.
It transpires that one of the other people was Trubshaw.
He had lived a life of bureaucratic exactitude as a clerk out in a dusty bank in a dusty town in the dusty Old West.
He crossed all the "t"s and dotted all the "i"s.
Then he made double entries of his double entries, filed the crossed "t"s, cross-referenced the dotted "i"s in tabulated form against the dotted "j"s, barred any zeroes for reasons of disambiguation, and shaded in the relative frequencies on a pie chart he was maintaining.Arthur Trubshaw's life of licentious proceduralism was brought to an abrupt end when he was shot to death during a robbery at the bank.
He did not die heroically: not unless one considers demanding a receipt from bandits as being in some sense praiseworthy.Even in Hell, Trubshaw had continued to demonstrate an unswerving devotion to the penny ante, the nit-picking, the terribly trivial, the very things that had poisoned his soul and condemned him in the first place.
Given such a mania for order, a den of chaos like Hell should have been an ideal punishment.
Trubshaw, however, just regarded it as a challenge.At first the demons assigned to torment him laughed diabolically at his aspirations and looked forward greedily to the sweet juices that drip from crushed hopes.
Then they discovered that, while they had been laughing, Trubshaw had rationalised their tormenting schedules for maximum tormenting efficiency, organised a time-and-motion study for the imps, and, in passing, tidied the underwear drawers of the demon princes and princesses.
Lilith, in particular, was mortified.Never one to squander such a remarkably irritating talent, Satan put Trubshaw in charge of admissions.
Hell had grown a new, unofficial ring."I want to see Satan.
Now." Cabal's accent was clipped and faintly Teutonic.
"I don't have an appointment."By now Trubshaw had noticed the clothes and was considering possible explanations.
"And who might ye be? The Archangel Gabriel?" He started the sentence as a joke but modified his tone halfway through.
After all, perhaps it was."My name is Johannes Cabal.
Satan will see me.""...

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Literature & Fiction,British & Irish,Horror,Science Fiction & Fantasy,Fantasy,Humorous,Humor & Satire



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Comment List (Total:13)

  •     Great wit and irony in a well told tale. It gives a smug sense of satisfaction with precise word choice.
  •     Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (2009) is an amusing, folklorish tale from Jonathan Howard.Cabal is, unsuprisingly, a necromancer. He's traded his soul for the power of life and death, but now he's discovered that his soulless state is impacting his (otherwise rigorous) experimentation. Cabal is exactly the sort of meticulous proto-scientific sort that can't stand this sort of unpredictable involvement in his research. Therefore, he needs his soul back.Satan, ever up for a good time, is willing to wager. If Cabal can get 100 souls in the next year, the Devil will return the original (slightly worn for wear). Hell, being an accommodating sort of archfiend, Satan will even chuck in the means of soul-gathering: a carnival.Cabal knows that the Devil will cheat, but any chance is better than none, and the narcissistic necromancer has a very high opinion of his own cunning.What follows is a somewhat-blackly humorous series of episodic adventures as Cabal and his cronies attempt to outwit the Devil and reach their quota. The "somewhat-blackly" comes from the fact that Cabal, despite name & profession, isn't really a bad guy. For the most part, he's off preying on those beasties and blackguards that are even more reprehensible than he is. Despite some efforts to create moral quandaries, there's never really any tension about it. If Cabal were unlikable, the book wouldn't work. Fortunately, the reader can back him with only the barest amount of unease.The book is also very funny. Howard has a very polished, supremely composed style. The closest comparison, if one were necessary, would be Stroud's Bartimaeus - except without the tangential footnotes. Cabal's dry sarcasm combines with a strong sense of comedic timing (always tough in written form) to create a book that's slick and wry, as opposed to laugh out loud. There are a few set-piece comedic bits that are perhaps a little over-composed - the occasional stretched, near-Pratchettian silliness, for example - but largely, Howard is channeling a voice of his own.There is, however, something about humorous genre pieces that necessitates an episodic structure. No one since (or possibly including) Adams has been able to create a holistic storytelling experience and keep the laughs coming. The carnival set-up is a good one: Cabal moves from town to town, having a different encounter in each. But Johannes Cabal is a child of the TV era. Each chapter has a beginning, an end, some appropriate chuckles and a nod towards a larger plot arc. For Howard, it works - down to the special double-episode season finale. (And appropriate cliff-hanger to start season 2).Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is a clever, well-crafted book. It sets up a sequel (which is already out) that I'm extremely curious to read. I could see the central conceit of the story getting very old, very quickly. Or, in the hands of a talented author (like Howard seems to be) becoming a cult cultural icon. Either way, this is a book worth reading: light, entertaining and extremely polished.
  •     I wanted to like this book but I found the main character, Cabal, completely uninteresting and without any redeeming qualities. Frankly he bored me.
  •     I enjoy this series. Written with a wry sense of humor. Though not steampunk, fans of the genre would likely enjoy it.
  •     ...it might have ended up something like this book. The pacing stumbles a bit when you get a brief montage and skip a significant chunk of time, but it's a good read nonetheless.
  •     Not going to write an entire book review, I will just say that Jonathan L Howard is just tremendously fun to read.
  •     One of my new favorite books. Witty, gallows humor. I thought I had it all figured out right up to the end.
  •     Interesting concept and narrative structure, but I'm not sure the writer was able to pull it off. The book reads a bit as a twisted satire of the urban fantasy genre, specifically Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. The protagonist, Johannas Cabal, is an anti-hero, and a somewhat crazy one at that. He's a necromancer who has become obsessed with raising the dead not as zombies or Frankenstein, but as the person was when they were actually alive. He is willing to do anything to accomplish his aim - he does not care. So he makes a deal with Satan, in exchange for his soul, Satan will give him the knowledge he needs. Only to realize that his experiments aren't working - because he sort of needs his soul to make them work or figure out why they don't work. Frustrated, Cabal goes back to Satan and requests his soul back. Satan agrees in return for 100 souls by the end of one year. Satan will even provide Cabal with the means necessary to acquire the souls - a traveling carnival. Cabal picks up his brother from a local graveyard, to aid him in his endeavor. His brother is a vampire.The book meanders. It's more a series of vignettes strung together over a central plot. With the point of view constantly shifting amongst various supporting characters. It reminds me a little bit of Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett's Good Omens in how it is structured and the irreverent sense of humor. But not quite as deft.I figured out somewhat early on why Cabal was doing it. The writer drops multiple anvils throughout his story. The twist...I also more or less saw coming, but it was less obvious and somewhat clever.Overall it's an okay read, but the characters didn't grab me, and I found myself plodding through most of it. The next book in the series, I've heard, is better -- but I'm not sure I care about Cabal enough to continue.
  •     thought it was gonna be a cool story about necromancy. instead its a guy that looks like a necromancer and with dumb glasses that covers his face and wears black, used necromancy...
  •     Utterly delightful Faustian tale. Love the characters, love the writing. A new favorite.
  •     Review courtesy of All Things Urban Fantasy:This book drew me in from about ten feet away on the shelf. The whole thing is beautiful and feels old in your hand.
  •     Howard’s portrayal of Johannes, and his vampire brother (Horst), makes for a hilariously dark read that takes you from graveyards, from town to town, and directly into the pits of hell itself. Johannes is a scientist who previously made a deal with the devil to learn the art of necromancy. Now, he wants his soul back and makes a second deal with the devil in order to win it back. One that involves a dark carnival (read as inspired by “Something Wicked this Way Comes,” by Ray Bradbury) in which Johannes must get one hundred souls signed over to the devil in order to win his soul back.You will see just how far over the line Johannes is willing to step as far as getting evil/corrupt people to sign over their souls (people who are arguably damned anyway) vs. tricking innocent souls into signing their lives away. It makes for an interesting ponder over what you might be capable of doing to others if it meant saving yourself or someone you loved. Would you damn an innocent in order to save yourself? If you say that you wouldn’t, I bet when push came to shove, you would. The fight for self-preservation in order to live is very strong, and is an ingrained instinct that would be hard to change, even if you wanted to.The writing is full of wit, and the darkness of the subject matter is balanced with the humor of both the situations themselves, and by the dialogue between the characters.I loved it! We learn at the end of this book exactly why necromancy is so important to Johannes. He doesn’t want to create a zombie army to do his evil bidding, nothing like that. The point isn’t that he wants a bunch of animated corpses to provide free labor to work in his lab. He has a reason for wanting what he wants that isn’t based on an evil desire to harm the world, and this reason is what makes him a sympathetic character.This is the first book of a series, and I have already ordered the remaining books, with the exception of the fifth (because it hasn’t been released yet).
  •     This is the first book in a series. It definitely makes me want to read the rest. The author has a light touch in dealing with dark matters (selling one's soul, e.g.
 

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