Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
Published by Headline and out now
There is always a suspension of disbelief when starting any novel and trusting that at point somewhere the events described would actually happen. Then when you get past this hurdle, which isn’t usually that high or difficult you have to settle into the story being told. Or at least settle into how the story is being told.
The problems with Johannes Cabal The Necromancer started from the opening pages I couldn’t get into the tone. Howard is trying for comedic fantasy. A very hard juggling act. Even Terry Pratchett, along with Robert Rankin, is considered a master of comedic fantasy, lets the gags come from the characters rather than the characters coming from the gags. And Pratchett has now toned the comedy to focus on the characters and the tale.
And over the first 50 pages, which is as far as I could manage, we get little introduction to the scientist/necromancer Cabal. We are marched with short order to the immigration control centre at the gates of Hell, which follows an exchange with the gate keeper, who used to be a banker and whose ideal of Hell is forms. We then get to meet a devil that’s risen through the ranks before Cabal lets out his secret bringing him down to size. Before getting to see Satan. Who is a little too normal.
The problem for me is that nothing feels real. Hell should be something special. But Howard neuters everything making the place and devils seem unimpressive and a tick box.
There are points where if he’d lingered then it would have been more interesting. Like the how he got hold of the skull that he scares the gatekeeper with, what sort of experiments he does. But instead he meets Satan that agrees a wager for Cabal to get his soul back if he takes on a Carnival to get a 100 souls in a year.
It’s hardly original.And that’s what I’m struggling with. Cabal is lacking a hook into him as a character. His wager isn’t that interesting and the storytelling is simple and humourless.
It does sound a little brutal. But that’s my impression of the first 50 pages. And I can’t see my impression changing. I’m not engaged by the whole thing. I’d recommend reading the opening chapters to see if you have the same reservations or if you find the tone and banter enjoyable.