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

10 thoughts on “Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

  1. carol. carol. says:

    Alternate title: Something Wicked This Way Comes, the Carnie Version

    Johannes Cabal is sorely vexed. Some time ago, he traded his soul to the Devil, as it was proving an impediment in his studies of necromancy. Alas, he acted too hastily–after much research, he’s realized that his soul is needed for his research to be have meaning. He might also have an ulterior motive. The epitome of the logistician, the obsessive scientist, Cabal is a hysterical straight man to the absurd humor of those around him. As his brother mocks him:

    “‘For tonight only. Horst held his hands up to an imaginary sign. ‘Thrown out of the Best universities, excommunicated from all the most popular religions and many of the obscure ones, fresh from his recent engagement in Hell, we present Johannes Cabal, Necromancer!’ Toot toot toot! He mimed blowing trumpets.
    ‘You’re a constant font of hilarity, aren’t you?’ said Cabal, unsmiling. ‘And, I’ll have you know that I was never, ever thrown out of my universities. I always left of my own accord.’”

    To regain his soul, Cabal makes a second deal with Satan: bring him exactly one hundred souls in a year’s time, and Cabal will get his own back. Hell, Satan’s feeling generous enough to lend him a Dark Carnival that never quite made it into circulation. Or is he? After all, Cabal just suggested Satan apologize to God for his pride. Despite that, Cabal is insightful enough to realize he needs someone who understands human nature. He seeks out his brother Horst, a being with a few unsavory habits but a surprisingly strong ethical code.

    “We’re supposed to be doing the devil’s work and you’ve gone and contaminated it all with the whiff of virtue. I really don’t think you’ve quite got the hang of being an agent of evil.”

    I enjoy Johannes Cabal’s voice. Howard hits the perfect note, satisfying the little scientist in me, as well as the artist in me annoyed by the scientific worldview, with both sides appreciating the humor from Cabal’s straight-edged approach. Frankly, I also empathize just the littlest bit with his misanthropy, the huddled masses who fail to appreciate the pursuit of science:

    “An idea started to crystallize… It might not work, of course, and there was always the possibility that he might have to upset or hurt a few of these excuses for people. So it wasn’t all bad news.”

    Plotting is relatively straightforward, much like Something Wicked, only becoming complicated at the end. Like all folktales, what the reader ultimately wants to know is if Cabal was able to escape the Devil’s Bargain, so the majority of the tale centers on collecting souls while the reader anticipates the outcome. In the meantime, the journey the carnival takes through the towns and the details of the carnival entertain. There’s also some interesting character development, or lack thereof, that elevates it beyond simple farce. Midway through, there are a couple sections that are done in epistolary form by various people. A police blotter proves surprisingly funny. The last letter is perhaps a little jarring to the narrative and takes it the most off track.

    The ending is a perfect capstone. A bit of an emotional roller-coaster, it ends with a satisfactory and narrative consistent confrontation. I admire Howard for reaching for something a little more complex. I’d recommend this to fans of Something Wicked, perhaps to Pratchett fans, fans of A. Lee Martinez,and people who might like their humor a little dark but with solid ethics. I think you have to enjoy the word play, have a dark sense of humor, but not dark enough to want bloodshed and violence. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to continuing the series.

  2. ✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans) ✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans) says:

    💀 Woohoo Time to Bring Back the Dead Buddy Read (WTtBBtDBR™) with the MacHalo Necromaniacs 💀

    The thing you are about to read is as crappy as the book it hopelessly tries to non-review is fantastic. Consider your little selves warned and stuff.

    There’s a slight chance this book might or might not be the mostest funniest one I have read in the entirety of this entire year. Maybe. Perhaps. Also, I’m fairly (almost) certain I haven’t come across such a joyously delightful mix of Fantasy, dark comedy, delicious British humor, and Weird & Wacky Stuff™ at any time in the last nine months, so there’s a good possibility this book might actually be one of my top ten favorite reads of 1956 2018. Mayhap.

    The Necromancer is a heart-warming little tale that tells the story of one Johannes Cabal (this in case you are even more clueless than the average Clueless Barnacle—quite a feat, that—and sort of missed the name of this series), an absolutely charming, compassionate guy who happens to be a, um, you know, necromancer and stuff. At the beginning of the story, our chum Johannes finds himself in a bit of a predicament. He channeled his inner Faust and sold his soul to the Devil a while back, you see, and now he wants it back (he kinda sorta needs it for his research and stuff). So what does Johannes do? Why he decides to go and have a little chat with his good old mate Satan of course.

    You are so hot, Your Mephistopheleciousness! I think I’m in 💕lurve💕

    So Cabal goes on a little field trip to bureaucracy hell the nether world, talks to the Evil Prince of Evilness, gets ripped off makes a deal, and goes his merry way embarks upon a nefarious mission to bring Hell’s head honcho one hundred souls in a year. No biggie and stuff. I mean, how hard can it be to get one hundred puny humans to fill in and sign Voluntary Damnation Form #EAGH/1? Especially when you’ve been lent a Dark Carnival Type Thingie (DCTT™) to help you in your villainous endeavor (by His Satanic Luciferiness, no less!). And have the help of both your vampire brother and a most colorful crew of slightly demonic/undead/freaky types. Piece of cake, methinks.

    “What happens next,” you ask? Well The Cabal Brothers Carnival of Wonders takes to the road and spoiler spoiler spoiler ensues. So does much hilarity. Well hilarity ensues for those equipped with Flawless Sense of the Absurdly Comical and Comically Absurd (FSotACaCA™), anyway. A quality our friend Johannes seems to have been born without, I’m afraid. He totally fails to appreciate how inanely ludicrous his current predicament is, and is as utterly unflappable as an anemic gastropod at a Barnacles & Chitons circus show. I mean, Cabal’s brother himself thinks the guy is “as much fun as a leper at an orgy,” which is saying something. But hey, it’s not all bad! He has tons of redeeming qualities and stuff: he can be magnificently obtuse, has a black, withered heart (just like me! Yay!), and is sarcastic as shrimp. Also, he has fished-up morals, a thing for shooting people in the back, and isn’t entirely loathe to smashing people’s brains out with a croquet mallet *swoons* Also also, his smile makes milk churn and doubles as an offensive weapon. Now that’s what I call High Security Harem Potential!

    Now. I’d love to tell you more about the story, but spoiler spoiler spoiler (as I may or may not have mentioned before), so I won’t. You are quite welcome, de nada, my pleasure and stuff. Anyway, what I can indeed tell you is that (beware, for it’s quick maths time):

    Howard’s witty, unique writing style + intriguing, original plot + yummy characterization + High Quality Snorting (HQS™) + offensive, recalcitrant fortune-telling machines + Ragtag Slyboots, Despoiler of Milk and Entangler of Shoelaces + surprisingly resilient babies + a chanting army of lunatics + Infernal Regions (Local Authority) Hades Provisional Admission Application (form #AAAA/342) + very perlite stuff + criminally insane fairies + GOST TRANES and TUNELS OF FEER and Rabits of TEROR, oh my! + Sartre’s old buddy Arthur Trubshaw + ancient expletives involving sexual congress between extinct tribes and extinct species (don’t ask) + prison escapees + mesmerised (if a little unhygienic) women littering up the carnival grounds + most hilariously amazing kid POV ever + friendly vicars and law-abiding postmen *shudders* + super extra cool footnotes + pathetic schemes that do as much damage as a convent full of possessed nuns + priceless police bulletins + ‘Rock, scissors, paper, dynamite, punch Dennis in the face’ + being belaboured with fourteenth-century battle axes + ‘I Lie Diplomatically About Your Weight’ machines = let’s dance and stuff, fellow necromaniacs!

    ➽ And the moral of this Johannes Cabal You Are One Slightly Heartless and Somewhat Cold Son of a Shrimp But I Still Lurves You and Stuff Crappy Non Review (JCYAOSHaSCSoaSBISLYaSCNR ™) is: FABULOSO!!! *waves at Elena and Timothy*

    · Book 0.5: Johannes Cabal and the Blustery Day ★★★★★
    · Book 0.75: Exeunt Demon King ★★★★
    · Book 2: The Detective ★★★★★
    · Book 2.5: The Ereshkigal Working ★★★★★
    · Book 3: The Fear Institute ★★★★★
    · Book 3.1: The House of Gears ★★★★
    · Book 3.2: The Death of Me ★★★
    · Book 3.3: Ouroboros Ouzo ★★★★
    · Book 4: The Brothers Cabal ★★★★
    · Book 4.5: A Long Spoon ★★★★★
    · Book 5: The Fall of the House of Cabal ★★★★★

    [Pre-review nonsense]

    As Johannes Cabal's good old pal Satan would say: dark stuff + weird stuff + HAHAHAHA stuff =

    ➽ Full review to come.

  3. ᴥ Irena ᴥ ᴥ Irena ᴥ says:

    I loved this book.

    I loved its weird characters.

    I loved Johannes Cabal even at his worst. I should be worried, I know. Johannes
    Image source

    I loved the beginning, the plot, the ending.

    I would admit that Johannes Cabal is an acquired taste. There are things here that might make some people squirm (not in a good way, but there are those too) and make them feel uncomfortable at best, horrified at worst. The first half of the book is a bit lighter than the second.

    If you thought Something Wicked This Way Comes was too tame, The Necromancer and its protagonist will not disappoint you. If Terry Pratchett wrote more morbid and horrifying stories, you would probably get this book. Also, there are so many moments that reminded me of Monty Python's Flying Circus. And we all know how morbid they could get ('I'm being belaboured with a fourteenth-century battleaxe. What are the odds, eh?'). I loved it.

    Johannes Cabal wants his soul back because he thinks his soulless state is messing up his research. You know he is trying to cure death, but you only get a vague idea of the reason. The Necromancer is about his bet with Satan. He would get a carnival train and whatever help he can conjure up to use for one year to get a hundred souls in exchange for his own. The rest is the carnival journey, collecting the souls and a couple of stories within a story for good measure.

    Speaking of things that might make you squirm (in a good way this time), there is Horst. I'll just leave it at that.

    If I tried really hard, I could find a couple of things to nit-pick but the fact that I didn't want to finish this book (I made myself read the last couple of pages really, really slow) speaks for itself.

    If you enjoy dark comedy and biting humour, then this book is for you.

  4. Dan Schwent Dan Schwent says:

    In a bid to win back his soul, necromancer and scientist Johannes Cabal runs a demonic carnival in order to win the souls of a hundred people to exchange for his own. With the help of his vampire brother, can he find one hundred people willing to sell their souls?

    This is one of those books that I'm having a hard time verbalizing my opinion on. I'll give it a shot, though.

    The Necromancer is a funny tale about a man trying to win back his soul. I found the dark British humor right up my alley. Johannes Cabal is a delightful asshole and his relationship with his brother Horst was one of my favorite parts of the book. I like the idea of a demonic carnival. Who knows where carnies go after they leave your town? I'm surprised Stephen King hasn't written something about that with his recent carnie obsession.

    The dialogue is great and, as I said before, I loved the humor and the brothers Cabal. The story itself was a little too linear for me. The carnival travels for a year and Johannes collects souls. That's pretty much it. There weren't really any twists until the last 20% of the book and those were a little telegraphed in my opinion.

    So I guess this book is firmly in 3 territory. I liked the characters quite a bit but I was never compelled to take a day off work to read the book in one sitting and I'm not sure I'll read the rest of the series.

  5. Bradley Bradley says:

    This book turned out to be a delightfully evil tome that retells the Faustian adventure in a clever, dry and imminently British way.

    Add a bit of Bradbury and the evil carnies, a dash of the detective mystery, and a very liberal dose of the classic beating the devil at his own game... and we've got this tale. I am pretty much delighted through and through, to tell the truth. :)

    It reads like the lightest of Urban Fantasies, it has the darkness of the most evil of tales, it has the glimmer of hope and the joys of brotherhood (until they turn sour), and it has the most delightfully sinful romp of paperwork in hell that I've ever see. If only all such travels to hell could be so organized and planned. :P

    Definitely a fun read. :)

  6. J.L. Sutton J.L. Sutton says:

    There weren't very many laugh out loud moments for me in Jonathan Howard's Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, but this dark comedy put a smile on my face during big parts of the book. Characters, such as Johannes Cabal and his vampiric brother Horst are presented with a light touch (even though Cabal's goal is to gather 100 souls for Satan so he can get his own soul back). There is no real new ground broken here, unless you count demons running a carnival as a twist, but it was an amusing and well-written read with lots of really good dialogue. 3.5 stars.

  7. Philip Philip says:

    3ish stars.

    This is a good, clever, quick genre-bender. It even has a few laugh-out-loud moments. It's very enjoyable, intelligent and endlessly quotable but a little too light-weight for my tastes (despite its dark nature) with a protagonist who is hard to care about. The audiobook performance by Christopher Cazenove really elevates the story and is highly recommended!

    Johannes Cabal is a necromancer. He's sold his soul to the devil. Now he'd like it back. There's humor in many varieties, as well as fantasy, (lite) horror, mystery, some great characters and a wonderful carnie-style setting. There's no denying it's a good book. Why 3 stars and not 4? The pace is a little inconsistent. It's a little twee- which is funny considering the juxtaposition with the dark subject matter, but not deep enough to become invested in the story itself. The protagonist is unlikeable, which is fine, as he's the straight man to a large cast of ridiculous characters: carnies, gentlemen, and a smorgasbord of the devil's own creations, as well as a vampire who happens to be Johannes's own noble-ish brother, Horst. As Johannes says to his brother:

    “We’re supposed to be doing the devil’s work and you’ve gone and contaminated it all with the whiff of virtue. I really don’t think you’ve quite got the hang of being an agent of evil.”

    But Johannes is also unsympathetic. Is he going to fulfill his deal with the devil? Eh, I don't care. Hopefully not, to be honest. So overall, worth a read, but unlikely to end up on any of my favorites lists. While this works perfectly well as a standalone, I might eventually read the next book, but I'm not in too big of a hurry.

    Just because, here are some of my favorite quotes:

    Upon introducing the House of Medical Monstrosity within the carnival, Johannes addresses the crowd's insecurities by assuring them they pale in comparison to the grotesque creatures in the house. So say the carnival-goers:

    A crowd was growing. A young woman nervously held up her hand. I...I...I have freckles.

    Cabal gestured fiercely over his shoulder with his thumb. We have the Dalmatian Boy. Next?

    A man called. I have a bit of an overbite.

    Then gaze in delighted wonder upon the Human Shark. Next!

    My nose is a little too pert, said an almost stereotypical blond woman on the arm of a wealthy man.

    It can't be as pert as Simone Sans-Nez the Noseless Girl's. Next!

    I'm ginger, called a teenage boy.

    So you are. Yes, my friends! The house of Medical Monstrosity!

    And these police notices about escaped convicts:

    Leslie Coleridge, The Part-time Children's Entertainer of Death. Approach with caution. If Coleridge offers to make a sausage dog out of balloons, call for immediate assistance.

    Joseph Grant Osbourne, The Unnecessarily Rude Poisoner. Of limited threat, but officers should take nothing he says personally.

    Gideon Gabriel Lucas, The Bible Basher. Only dangerous to individuals with the surname 'Bible.'

    Frederick Gallagher, “The Brides in the Inflammable Electrified Acid Bath Murderer.” Limited threat. Kills only for insurance money. Is prone to overplanning.

    Oliver Tiller, The Rhyming Killer. Ex-army munitions officer with expertise in booby traps. While pursing Tiller, officers should beware rakes by lakes, toads in roads, and hares on stairs. Esplanades are to be avoided entirely.

    Alvin Simpson, file missing. Assumed dangerous. Probably.

  8. Ivan Ivan says:

    Edit after re-read: Wile I enjoyed this book immensely both first and second time around it doesn't showcase quality of the rest of the series. It's from second book that writting becomes more polished, everything clicks this becomes one of my all time favorite series.

    Original review:
    Somewhere between 4 and 5 stars but little closer to 4.

    Writing style and humor reminds of Terry Pratchett but with lot darker tone. Humor here is dark and our protagonist isn't a hero or even anti-hero. Johannes Cabal is straight up villain and horrible person with flashes of redeemable qualities now and then which made him intriguing and interesting to me.

    This book follows his funny misadventures in trying to sign 100 souls to devil in order to get his soul back. Like Discworld messes around with fantasy this book messes with late Gothic and early modern horror genre. I'm not expert in those genre but I recognized references and nods to Lovecraft, Blake, M.R. James, Marry Shelley and some others. One thing thing this book differs from Discworld are story and characters who are done in more serious manner and I know lot of people who will prefer it that way although this book lacked those moments of pure brilliance Discworld has.

    In the end if you like your humor dark and don't mind or even prefer protagonist who is heartless bastard than this isn't a book you should miss.

  9. Sh3lly Sh3lly says:

    Blog | Twitter

    Read this with the MacHalos.

    Johannes Cabal is a scientist slightly obsessed with bringing back the dead, restoring life, necromancing, and stuff. He has a complicated relationship with his brother. He is not a people person.

    Cabal makes a deal with Satan and travels around with a train full of circus freakshow types, trying to collect souls so he can get HIS back! It's a magical train, like see, and new crew members are just plucked out of thin air when needed. But, they can't really be trusted with the general public, even though they are working with the general public. Houston, we have a problem.

    This is a wacky, silly, over the top novel with a grumpy anti-hero protagonist. Cabal isn't very nice, but he's not full-on bad either.

    I loved Horst. THere are some great lines in this, especially when describing Cabal's personality. I read some lines, and thought to myself, Shelly (as opposed to thinking to one of my other personalities), This could be me. I feel such kinship here.

    Anyway, definitely reading on.

  10. Mia Mia says:

    The darkest souls are not those which choose to exist within the hell of the abyss, but those which choose to break free from the abyss and move silently among us.

    Although the above quote is from the movie Halloween, it sums up this book almost perfectly. Because even though The Necromancer may at first dazzle readers with its sharp wit and cleverness, it has a dark heart, mostly due to its eponymous leading man, Johannes Cabal.

    Cabal has a problem, you see. A while ago, he sold his soul to Satan and now... Well, he's having second thoughts. The only thing to do is take a brief journey to hell and strike up a bargain with none other than Lucifer himself: in return for his soul, Cabal must convince 100 other people to sign their souls to eternal damnation. If he fails, though, Satan gets the souls he's collected, as well as Cabal's soul- and his life. And so, with the aid of a dark carnival, his brother (a delightfully charismatic vampire with strong morals), a small faculty of the undead, some freaks, and his own calculating intellect, Cabal sets off to triumph or fail- but whatever happens, he will have given it his damnedest.

    Alright, now that the synopsis is over with, I can finally dish about all of the things I loved in this book!

    He spent an undignified few moments trying to get over the fact that he was no longer in Hell, wheeling on the spot like somebody who has walked into the wrong toilets. When he finally deduced that he had been unceremoniously translocated, he marked the revelation with a filthy curse in a language that had been dead eight thousand years, so managing to be amazingly erudite and amazingly uncouth in the selfsame instant.

    Firstly, Johannes Cabal himself. Where do I even begin? This book is very much a character study of Cabal- his darkness, his soullessness, his arrogance, his desperation, and the tiny flickers of compassion and humanity that he tries his very best to hide from the world. Much of his background is murky- we know practically nothing of his past, or what he did on a daily basis before selling his soul. And that's the least of the enigma that is Johannes. As the carnival travels across England, stealing souls and leaving mayhem in its wake, we spend a lot of time inside his mind- we watch him struggle and rage, scheme and trick, steal and swindle. We watch him kill, and spare lives. We root for him and curse him in the same breath. And that, I think, is what a great character is supposed to be: complex, neither wholly good nor wholly bad, with motivations that are difficult to piece together and never clean-cut. Great characters are ones that you can relate to and empathise with despite their outlandish circumstances. They remind us of ourselves and our own struggles, and they make us doubt both their own actions and ours.

    Oh, Johannes, it moaned in exasperation. You utter idiot. This is to get your soul back, isn't it? Don't you know anything? You can't beat him. He only bets on certainties.

    So people keep telling me, replied Cabal, growing exasperated himself. Well, I say 'people,' but that's a fairly loose term. I need my soul back. That's not open to negotiation. I took the only deal he would offer. Take it or leave it. I took it. Perhaps he can't be beaten. I don't know, nor shall I until I give this the best I can. And if I fail, it won't be through lack of will or defeatism setting in. I'll be able to look Satan in the eye and say, 'I did my best, and it came pretty close. And while you just sat down here on your fat, sulphuric arse, I stretched for the impossible, so don't imagine for a moment that this is your victory, you smug, infernal bastard.' He stopped, breathing heavily.

    Cabal actually reminded me quite a bit of myself, which was slightly scary. No, I don't coldly murder people, and I would know better than to sell my soul to the devil, and I don't believe I'm quite as narcissistic or bitter as Cabal. But some of his traits- the discomfort around people, the way he (sometimes unknowingly) hurts people by stating facts, his biting snark, the way most people thinks he feels nothing at all, the ruthless, stop-at-nothing-until-you-understand-how-it-works sort of curiosity- that's incredibly similar to myself. And that's precisely why Johannes Cabal is such a masterpiece of a character: he's a snarky little bastard, neither hero nor villain, and even when you hate him viciously for being so obtuse or cold or just plain mean, you see enough of yourself in his darkness that you can never write him off completely.

    Also, HORST! Horst is Johannes' estranged brother who also happens to be a vampire, and a rather charming one at that. Cabal recruits his help in running the carnival (which is entrusted to him by Satan for the purpose of stealing souls) because he realises that for all his knowledge, Cabal is pretty useless in the actual person-to-person advertising and entertainment aspects of running a travelling carnival. Horst is what's known as a foil in the literary world; that is, a character that contrasts another character, highlighting certain aspects of them that wouldn't be seen otherwise. In this case, Horst's morality and easy charm are a sharp contrast to Cabal's amorality and general misanthropy. The relationship between the two brothers was really touching at times, and most of the time I was shouting, Just stop being assholes and say you love each other, dammit! Needless to say, (view spoiler)[Horst's death absolutely crushed me. Especially since Johannes was indirectly responsible and because it got me wondering if getting out of his deal scot-free was a blessing or a curse for Cabal. Because although it may first seem like a triumph- outwitting Satan and all that- the ending leaves us with a Johannes Cabal that feels decidedly tragic, more broken than he was in the beginning despite his gain of a soul. (hide spoiler)]