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Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (Johannes Cabal Novels Book 1) [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan L. Howard
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 the Trade Paperback edition.

Books In This Series (4 Books)
Complete Series


  • Editorial Reviews

    Amazon.com Review

    Book Description
    In this uproarious and clever debut, it’s time to give the Devil his due.

    Johannes Cabal, a brilliant scientist and notorious snob, is single-mindedly obsessed in heart and soul with raising the dead. Well, perhaps not soul... He hastily sold his years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. But now, tormented by a dark secret, he travels to the fiery pits of Hell to retrieve it. Satan, who is incredibly bored these days, proposes a little wager: Johannes has one year to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever.

    To make the bet even more interesting, Satan throws in that diabolical engine of deceit, seduction, and corruption known as a “traveling circus” to aid in the evil bidding. What better place exists to rob poor sad saps of their souls than the traveling carnivals historically run by hucksters and legendary con men?

    With little time to lose, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire (an unfortunate side effect of Johannes’s early experiments with necromancy), to be the carnival’s barker. On the road through the pastoral English countryside, this team of reprobates wields their black magic with masterful ease, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

    Johannes may have the moral conscience of anthrax, but are his tricks sinful enough to beat the Devil at his own game? You’ll never guess, and that’s a promise!

    Brilliantly written and wickedly funny, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer combines the chills and thrills of old-fashioned gothic tales like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the mischievous humor of Wicked, and the sophisticated charms of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and spins the Faustian legend into a fresh, irreverent, and irresistible new adventure.


    A Q&A with Jonathan L. Howard

    Question: You’ve been working on Johannes Cabal in its various iterations for many years now, how did it feel spending so much time with such nefarious characters?

    Jonathan L. Howard: It’s something of a cliché to say that villains are more interesting than heroes, nor is it even very true, so I shan’t be trotting that particular phrase out. I would suggest that it is the inner life of the character that makes them interesting, and that is true of the virtuous as much as the vile. Cabal does some rather horrible things, it is true, but he never does them purely to give himself the opportunity to curl his waxed moustache—he’s clean-shaven, for one thing—and declaim his wickedness. He always has a reason, and it’s usually a good one. I find fictional villains who are evil because they are evil unengaging. Cabal, on the other hand, has motivations and drives that most can sympathise with, even if the actions he commits based on those drives can be loathsome. For him, the ends always justify the means, and damn the consequences.

    Question: The carnival in your book is used as a device for collecting souls; was there a real life inspiration for the carnival? Do you find there to be something generally sinister about carnivals?

    Jonathan L. Howard: There’s no real life inspiration for the carnival, really, but plenty in fiction. The obvious inspiration was Bradbury’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/0380977273/"Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a deserved classic. I liked the Disney film version, too, and dearly wish that its original incarnation as a screenplay in the fifties produced by Gene Kelly—Gene Kelly!—had come to fruition. Something Wicked’s Cooger & Dark’s Carnival wasn’t the first threatening carnival in fiction, and it certainly wasn’t the last, but it is probably the best. It was the persnickety question of where such a carnival might come from and how anybody would end up as a proprietor that inspired my novel.

    As for how sinister they are, that is to an extent a fictional conceit on my part too. You have to bear in mind that carnivals like that are unknown in the United Kingdom, and I haven’t heard of the traditional British travelling fair being transported by train either. The Cabal stories take place in a slightly blurry world where things come together because they aesthetically appeal to me, and not because they’re historically accurate; a magical realism of sorts. I wanted an American-style carnival travelling by train, and that’s what I got. That said, there are plenty of permanent fairgrounds around the country, and they tended to have a slightly creepy air about them. The real Ghost Trains in Blackpool and Porthcawl, for example, inspired the exterior of the Ghost Train in the novel.

    Question: In addition to writing you work as a video game designer, how does that work compare to the experience of writing fiction? Are there any surprising similarities?

    Jonathan L. Howard: There are definite similarities, but I wouldn’t say that they are surprising. The games I’ve worked on tend to have definite narratives, so it’s exactly the same process of inspiration, development, pacing, and polishing. The main difference is that a novel can have significant sequences in which physically little happens, which is considered heretical in games. In fairness, there’s good reason for that—the player wants to be involved, and there isn’t a great deal of opportunity for that in a scene consisting of two people talking over a cup of tea. That’s not to say it hasn’t been attempted, and pretty successfully. I remember a game a few years ago based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. It hit all its target, being very atmospheric, true to its source, even thought provoking, and all without <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1605898546/"Pit and the Pendulum platformer or <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/1594561796/"Fall of the House of Usher first person shooter sections. In commercial terms, however, it was never going to be the next <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001EYUW86/"Tomb Raider.

    Question: Have you always been a fan or horror and supernatural lore? When did this sort of thing first capture your imagination?

    Jonathan L. Howard: Yes, I’ve always enjoyed the grotesque and the macabre, right from an early age. I recall that I somehow saw Dana Andrews being chased around the woods by a fireball in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0000694WH/"Night of the Demon when I was about four or five, and being fascinated. I grew up on a diet of black and white <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who/e/B001CFFX86/"Doctor Who, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Avengers/e/B001CFAJTE/"The Avengers, snatched glimpses of the first few minutes of Out of the Unknown episodes before being sent to bed, and any number of slightly disturbing imports like The Tinderbox and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00004YS9R/"The Singing, Ringing Tree. I remember that I got a book for Christmas sometime in the very early seventies called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0000COCXW/"Stranger Than People, which was basically a young person’s guide to Fortean phenomena, interspersed with stories like "The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait," and Poe’s "Metzengerstein." I loved that book; I read it so many times that the cover fell off.

    Question: What sort of research did you do for the book? Was there anything you came across in the process that really surprised you?

    Jonathan L. Howard: I actually did very little research for it; it was mostly lurking in my mind already. I can remember little necessary for day to day living, but if you ask me the birth name of Dr. Crippen’s wife, I can tell you off the top of my head. I needed a bit of nomenclature for something or other in the running of a carnival, which a librarian friend found for me, but that was the only real piece of research for it. Even things like the Grand Conjuration to summon a demon—which is an authentic ritual, you may be horrified to hear—was in a book I already had. I have a large collection of books on assorted esoterica to the extent that my wife, a bibliophile herself, rolls her eyes and says, “Not more bloody books?” whenever I come home with a bookshop bag and a sheepish expression.

    Question: There is a lot of paperwork in your version of Hell. Did you hold an especially bureaucratic job somewhere before working as a game designer?

    Jonathan L. Howard: No, I’m very happy to say. I remember as a child considering the inevitability of growing up and wondering what the worst thing about it would be. It all looked pretty good from that perspective: money, going to bed when you liked, being able to go into any certificate film, and so on. Finally, I spotted a bad point, and that bad point was having to fill in forms. And I was right. There’s just something about completing a form that fills me with dread in its consideration, and depression during its commission. Which reminds me; I have two to fill in this week. Oh, joy.

    Question: Johannes is a bit of an anti-hero and his motivations are somewhat mysterious. Do you think that he’s misunderstood by those around him?

    Jonathan L. Howard: He’s definitely misunderstood, although if he were understood, it still wouldn’t make him popular. The fact that he’s labeled a necromancer gives him a public relations problem, as the vast majority of them are power hungry lunatics. Cabal’s ultimate aim is to defeat death, and to have the ability to bring people back just as they were when they were alive, physically, mentally, and spiritually. No lurking demonic possessions, no uncouth brain gobbling. His researches in that direction, however, have not been conducted in the most advantageous light.

    Question: What’s next for you?

    Jonathan L. Howard: I handed in the submission draft of the second Cabal novel Johannes Cabal the Detective just the other week, so that will be going through the editorial process shortly. I also have to decide what the next Cabal novel after that will be; I have a couple of ideas so it’s a case of weighing pros and cons before making a decision. I have a couple of non-Cabal novels, one of which is completed but needs a second draft, and the other is about 80% done. I’d like to get them polished, and then see if we can get them into print.

    (Photo © Emma L.B.K. Smith)

    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.

    Product Details

    • File Size: 1379 KB
    • Print Length: 306 pages
    • Publisher: Anchor (June 17, 2009)
    • Sold by: Random House LLC
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B002DOSBL6
    • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
    • X-Ray:
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,059 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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    Customer Reviews

    4.2 out of 5 stars
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    4.2 out of 5 stars
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    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars Quite the Carnival June 16, 2009
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
    Johannes Cabal is not only a necromancer but a total jerk who suddenly finds giving up his soul to Satan has caused him a bit of a problem when it puts a stop to his research. In order to solve this he goes to Hell to meet with the Lord of Darkness in order to get his soul back. A wager of sorts is agreed upon with details set by Satan. The wager consists of bringing forth a dark carnival to help Cabal capture 100 souls in a year's time. If Cabal can accomplish this next to impossible task in the time allotted his soul will be returned to him. The Dark Carnival is of the of the soul-snatching kind, which apparently is not the only one Satan has in operation around the world. However, the one Cabal is given has to be totally reconstructed and revived. To accomplish the revival of the Dark Carnival Johannes enlists his estranged brother Horst, who is not very happy with him for reasons I won't mention here, but agrees to help him with a little arm twisting. Once Johannes resurrects his carnival workers and puts together some `freak show' entertainment he starts his journey to collect 100 souls.

    Jonathan L. Howard's writing is outwardly humorous, dark, and brings to mind works by Terry Pratchett (`DiscWorld'), Douglas Adams (`Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy'), and Christopher Moore (`Fool'). Sometimes the laughs are real `groaners' and the quirkiness leaves you feeling a little off center due to the rapid pace of the book. The unpredictability of one strange situation after another quickly building on each other is part of the charm of this book, so fasten your seat belt and give in to it to achieve maximum enjoyment.

    Though I enjoyed the book I still felt there were portions of it that were hastily written.
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    22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully loony, surprisingly sad. June 22, 2009
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
    Johannes Cabal has sold his soul to the devil - with immediate possession - in exchange for magic and arcane wisdom that will help him further his research. But he discovers he needs his soul, not for any particular spiritual reason, but because he believes that being without it is hindering his work. And so he sets out to strong-arm Satan into giving it back. He's willing to make a deal, but both he and Satan drive hard bargains, and in the end, Johannes agrees that within the space of a single year he will deliver one hundred other souls in exchange for his own. And just because he's an okay guy, Satan gives Cabal a carnival. Not your fun-and-games, cotton candy and wild rides sort of carnival either, but one which has the potential to corrupt and destroy human beings.

    There's something about this book which reminds me a great deal of Gaiman's and Pratchett's "Good Omens" which is one of my favorites. Probably it's the sense that what's going on in the narrative is serious stuff, and should be taken seriously... except it's not. The danger, the corruption, the infernal interference would all make a terrific horror novel, if it wasn't so damn funny. I guess that in the final analysis, evil isn't majestic or magnificent, but rather it's small and petty and even bureaucratic in nature. Evil is less being rent limb from limb by hell hounds and more getting pecked to death by ducks.

    But there is an underlying seriousness within this book, and it's about the nature of the individual soul, about the relationships that have made the characters what they are, and which drive them to do what they do. That is, at least, deadly serious, and rightly so.
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    11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars The Carnival of My Imagination April 4, 2010
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    I always thought that carnivals seemed slightly dangerous and evil--and this fabulous book reached into my mind and made me say--that's right! I knew it!

    Firstly, this is my new favorite novel, ever. I want to make sweet love to it or at least take it out for a nice dinner and a peck on the cheek. And cheek this book has in spades. And spades too. And more shivery evil than a clown convention.

    If you enjoy dry, biting humor and the ability to laugh at the absurd you must read this book. I would buy action figures if they were available. Every character in this book is an absolute character whether you love them or hate them. And in the end, your opinion of each may change several times.

    Please Mr. Howard, lock yourself in a dungeon and don't come out until you have ten more books about Mr. Cabal. If need be I'll chuck homemade brownies and tea over the wall on a regular basis, just please get to it!
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    9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Crisp, dry humor June 30, 2009
    Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
    After a few false starts, I found myself unable to stop reading this book. Johannes Cabal is not an interesting character right off the bat, we have to wait until things get get started to really start to enjoy him.

    As a Necromancer, Cabal has found that things don't go the way they are supposed to when the man in charge has no soul. Having sold his a while back in order to learn the secrets of necromancy in a hurry, Cabal has found that he's basically foiled himself, and he needs his soul back. Traveling to Hell to strike yet another deal with Satan, Cabal agrees to obtain 100 souls within one year for Satan in order to get his very own back. Given the use of a carnival that never got up off the ground, Cabal sets off to entrap doomed souls with the help of his brother Horst, who is a vampire.

    This book was interesting, but I wasn't too pleased with some of the vagueness. Of course I didn't want to go into excruciating detail for the procurement of each and every soul, but time passes sort of without warning here (I guess as it does in life?) and that threw me off a bit.

    We are treated to a few surprises when it comes to the morality of several characters, and I like that unexpectedness. A real treat is waiting for the reader at the end of the book, and that is nice, it casts a little more insight on the tale as a whole. The story has traces of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's collaboration "Good Omens," and that in itself is a comparison that I'm certain is an honor to have.

    A very enjoyable spin on the old Faustian classic, this comes highly recommended
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    Most Recent Customer Reviews
    3.0 out of 5 stars Good story..........I guess.
    I consider myself an educated person and am well versed in the English language, but I have never read a book where I had to look up the meaning of so very many different words. Read more
    Published 3 days ago by 224perweek
    5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, quirky, Gaiman-esque
    Loved it from beginning to end - and beyond, as I am intent on starting the next in the series before the body of the first is even cold! Jonathan L. Read more
    Published 5 days ago by TruthStudent
    4.0 out of 5 stars Darkly Humorous
    I had never read anything by this author before but I will absolutely be adding him to my list of author's to read now. This is a fun book to read with some darker humor in it. Read more
    Published 16 days ago by K D H
    3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing ...but interesting idea
    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... Read more
    Published 17 days ago by Christine Lloyd
    4.0 out of 5 stars like Monty Python-esc
    The author can seem a bit pretentious but it's a very interesting story. It gets bit silly also, like Monty Python-esc, but it all comes together in the end (loose ends and the... Read more
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    5.0 out of 5 stars This is a book.
    This book is hilarious, and an awesome story.
    Published 1 month ago by ThatJakeSteward
    5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
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    Published 3 months ago by Jim
    5.0 out of 5 stars If Christopher Moore wrote a book about a necromancer running a...
    The writing style is different but the spirit is the same as Christopher Moore. Witty, dry, and even funnier if you get the references to different mythos, including Cthulhu. Read more
    Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
    4.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable read
    Interesting read. Not a lot to it from a literary or new images standpoint, but it demands little from the reader and moves along in telling is story.
    Published 5 months ago by Pop S
    5.0 out of 5 stars simply amazing!
    This is an inventive, humorous, and exciting adventure. The author's characters have are believable and they have funny and realistic dialogue. I'm buying the next book right away!
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    More About the Author

    Jonathan L. Howard is a game designer and BAFTA nominated scriptwriter of some twenty years experience.

    He's been a novelist since 2009, débuting with the darkly humorous "Johannes Cabal the Necromancer." Since then the sequels "Johannes Cabal the Detective" (2010) and "Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute" (2011) have also seen print.

    A new Cabal novel is set for publication in late 2014.

    2012 saw the publication of the first novel of his Russalka Chronicles trilogy, "Katya's World," a YA science fiction story that takes place on the dangerous and unforgiving ocean-covered world of Russalka. The first sequel, "Katya's War," was published in 2013.

    2014 saw the beginning of the "Goon Squad" project, an ongoing story of mismatched superheroes, published in monthly episodes.

    Jonathan L. Howard lives with his family in the English West Country.

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    I need to know how much profanity, if any, is in this book...
    There is nothing offensive as far as I can recall.
    Sep 16, 2009 by Matthew Smith |  See all 2 posts
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