I don’t know if I have ever mentioned my love for Jonathan L Howard’s character, Johannes Cabal, but if not, let me remedy this oversight immediately. (If I have done so already, well, no harm gushing about it once more.)
Johannes Cabal is first and foremost a scientist, rather than a necromancer. He despises whimsy and is the analytical sort who’d rely on his facts and experiments than mere luck and magic, though he does have a thorough knowledge when it comes to dead languages and summoning demons, albeit in a practical manner, stripped off its rituals. His desire to be a necromancer isn’t fuelled by unattainable ambition, like raising a zombie army or being rich and famous or achieving immortality, but rather it seems more likely that he is being driven by a painful event in his past, to conquer death and bring someone dear back to life.
The first book, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, is probably the weakest book in the series, while it is entirely humourous and well-written, I found it a tad… chunky in times of its pacing. Too little happened in the beginning and too much was crammed in the last few chapters. Basically, the gist of it is that Cabal, having signed a Faustian deal with the devil in the past, regrets this decision as the lack of a soul messes up his experiments and he goes to hell to get his soul back. The devil makes a wager: Cabal must get him 100 souls in exchange and he aids Cabal by giving him a demonic travelling carnival as the instrument to get these souls. And of course, Cabal manages to survive and outwits the devil with pedantry and goes on his merry way. Personally, I thought the ending was a little cliched and predictable, but nonetheless, it was extremely enjoyable as I found Cabal’s dry wit and deadpan manner very familiar.
I actually read the second book in the series first, Johannes Cabal the Detective, is a spin on the typical locked room mystery, only instead of being in a locked room, the events take place in an airship flying from one country to another. Cabal steals the identity of a government official after leaving the country in chaos and finds himself with a whole shipful of annoying characters, who are killed in suspicious manners, and of course, Cabal is dragged into investigating the mess despite not wishing to engage in something so troublesome.
The third book, Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute, leans towards the Lovecraftian spectrum much more than the previous two, where we find many references to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. He embarks on a journey with three other individuals who are in search of the avatar of Fear, hoping to remove it entirely from the world, so no one would suffer from irrational fear. Of course, everyone bites off more than they can chew, and it’s up to Cabal to survive and get rid of these fools weighing him down. I liked this one too, though I was a little confused by the ending, but no worries, i shall be re-reading this very soon when my copy finally arrives from Book Depository. I read a library copy originally and haven’t had the chance to refresh my memory.
Anyway, the bottom line, for all his flaws and his inability to parse human emotions and motivations, I find Johannes Cabal an extremely endearing character, even though he’s pretty much an anti-hero type of character, being none too moral or heroic and more towards extreme cynicism and self-interest. Basically, the type of person I’d want to be when I grow up :D