Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L Howard

Rating 7.8/10
Simply ingenious and beautifully written.

I really like anti-heroes. I don’t mean those grey characters you create in your pen and paper role playing games at home which are really just antagonistic good guys. I mean the guys out there doing the really bad stuff, but not because they’re trying to rid the world of humanity, but because they’ve got a girl they want to save, or something like that.

That’s what Johannes Cabal the Necromancer: Needs Must When the Devil Drives (it’s a long title, but the front cover of the book looks brilliant) is all about. Johannes Cabal is not a nice guy, and that’s just the way I want him. I’m not looking for him to turn a new leaf and start a new life and etc etc. I’m happy with him being the dispassionately evil main character that I’ve been wanting now.

Author Jonathan L. Howard has written a really great story. I get the feeling he tried a bit too hard in the opening third of the book to be erudite and witty with his writing, and it comes across as a little ill-written because of that. But the writing eventually smooths out a little, while still not being as polished as a Kate Griffin or Steven Erikson.

The story itself is fast paced and very creative. There were a few instances early on when I was a little confused as to what had happened and why, but once again, that smoothed out and by the end I had no complaints.

Some people may not enjoy the way in which Howard lets time skip by without addressing it immediately, but I didn’t care. I don’t need to have a calendar stub at the top of each chapter title to make sure I’ve kept track of how much time has passed, and the fact that we didn’t see the entire 365 days of the story bodes well for Howard’s ability to write a captivating story without showing us every single detail.

The characters were sublime. There’s not much more I can say than that. Howard set it out pretty early who were the good and bad guys, and there was no wavering by the end. The character growth is great, because in some senses it isn’t even really there, but is rather swapped with characters who don’t want to grow, are happy as they are, which I think has to be an almost more difficult character to write.

Howard does a really good job setting this story in a world that is neither now or then, but rather some ambiguous time between then and now. I was glad that he didn’t try to make sure we knew exactly where and when the story was, because it let me fill in some of the gaps for myself, and let others pass me by as apparently unimportant to the story that Howard was writing.

In the end, I was stoked. The book has surprised me over and over, both with Howard’s style of writing and storytelling, his characterisation and his ingenious depictions of the denizens of hell and its hell itself. On the other hand, the story itself kept surprising me, and by the end I was entirely on Johannes’ side, and was just short of pumping my fist when he pulls his final con.
I would easily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys writing by Steven King or Kate Griffin, or anyone who just likes a really well written story set in a real-world Earth with unreal fantastical aspects. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is simply ingenious and beautifully written with a touch of the insane added in for flavour. It’s just perfect.

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