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Editorial Reviews

Johannes Cabal was just your average, everyday scientist trying to cure death before he gave up on science and turned to necromancy. To become a necromancer, all he had to do was sell his soul to the devil. Which was fine, he didn't think he'd need it. Turns out he was wrong, though, so he goes to hell to get it back. Only once there, he finds the devil's not so interested in returning it. At least not without making things interesting. So, Cabal and the devil agree on a little wager: If Cabal can collect 100 souls in the span of one year, the devil will return his soul to him. Cabal accepts the challenge—not that he really had any choice, unless he wanted to settle for eternal damnation—and returns to Earth to discover that the devil has—kindly? —provided him with a traveling carnival, which Cabal must use in his attempts to acquire those hundred souls.

If Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman had collaborated on another book after Good Omens, or Christopher Moore had been raised in the UK by devil-worshiping carnies, or J. K. Rowling had decided to write a humorous novel but had a cold, black lump of coal in her chest where a heart would otherwise be, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is the book they, he, or she might have written. Which is to say a laugh-out-loud funny fantasy, with liberal doses of the devil, darkness, and death.

To narrate such a text-—one rife with numerous (and challenging) voices and requiring of impeccable comic timing—would be a tall order for any actor, but Christopher Cazenove makes it seem as child's play. His sonorous British tone matches up with Jonathan L. Howard's prose precisely, and he provides several unique voices, bringing a wide range of characters to life (some of which are dead!), resulting in a truly remarkable—dare I say...flawless? —audiobook production.

Given the subject matter of the novel, it's entirely possible Howard and Cazenove sold their souls in exchange for their incredible talents. If you run into either of them, be sure to read very carefully anything they ask you to sign... —John Joseph Adams

Publisher's Summary

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 100 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.

©2009 Jonathan L. Howard (P)2009 Random House

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The Necromancer as Diabolic Showman

Johannes Cabal once sold his soul to the devil in return for necromantic knowledge that would propel him towards his goal in the dark arts, only to discover that his soullessness always skews the results of his black scientific experiments. Therefore, he makes a wager with Satan: if he can get 100 people to sign their souls over to the devil within one year, Satan will return Cabal???s soul to him. To ???help??? Cabal, Satan gives him the use of an infernal traveling carnival and a ball of Satanic blood with which to conjure up workers and attractions. The penalty for failure is Cabal???s death and damnation.

Thus begins Jonathan L. Howard???s macabre, humorous, and strangely moving novel Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. Howard???s fresh takes on hellish horror tropes like vampires, ghosts, demons, warlocks, imps, zombies, and Lovecraftian cults, is entertaining. His similes are often funny and original, as when the smoke from the infernal train engine rises up to the sky like the pyres of witches or martyrs. I liked much of the social satire, about, for instance, the insanity of war or men who beat women. Sometimes Howard???s jokes and allusions are a bit too contemporary or cheap, as in revealing that Satan created lawyers or as in having Al Capone misspell ???venereal??? on the form he???s trying to fill in to enter hell. But Cabal is a fascinating anti-hero protagonist, his relationship with his big brother Horst is compelling, and his mysterious reason for being a necromancer is intriguing. And the climax and resolution of the novel are suspenseful and satisfying (though I could have done with a little less of Layla the Latex Lady).

Christopher Cazenove marvelously reads the novel (as he does with The Merry Adventures of Robinhood and Peter Pan), with perfect rhythm and clear enunciation and varied voices for different characters, from Cabal???s stiff, cold, and slightly Germanic accent through Bones??? ingratiating Americanisms and Satan???s infernal humor and silk and rage. Fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman ought to enjoy this book.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Guillermo
  • Rochester Hills, MI, United States
  • 06-19-10

Masterpiece Comedy

This isn't just a book that has many moments that made me laugh out loud. It's well told narrative with suspense and twists.

If it was just a comedy I wouldn't give this five stars. But it's clever, passionate, well narrated and beautifully sarcastic.

I had as much fun listening to this as I had 30 years ago reading Bored of the Rings or in the 80's and 90's reading Good Omens or the first few Xanth novels by Piers Anthony. Also, if you like passionately fun novels like Infected/Contagious you also might like this, too.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth
  • Upper Kingsclear, New Brunswick, Canada
  • 10-30-09

Absolutely wonderful narrator

The narrator was just the best that could be for this story. His accents were great, all of them. The story has a solid pace, somewhat like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, you either like it or you don't.The humour is as dry as an autumn leaf, and thinly served up, so as not to overwhelm. A very good listen.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Stuart
  • QUINCY, MA, United States
  • 03-18-10

Methadone your Gaiman or Pratchett fix

Yes, I'm one of those. Gaiman and Pratchett can't write them fast enough and Adams is currently dead (for tax reasons, I believe). Howard isn't as funny, but he's got dark and ironic down--which is more than enough to stave off the withdraw shakes for another day. And, in all fairness, this is a better showing for an early work than most of Pratchett's first several books. As far as audio goes, Christopher Cazenove does a superb job talking us through this freak show.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Cliff
  • madison, MS, United States
  • 10-09-13

And now for something completely different.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, it is a funny read and above all it is something different from the main stream.

What other book might you compare Johannes Cabal The Necromancer to and why?

Maybe some Terry Pratchet novels. He has a very dry sense of humor and pokes subtle fun at a lot of the genre tropes.

What does Christopher Cazenove bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He captured the feel and characters perfectly. He really did a great job and helped bring the story to life. I read the book first and it could get a bit dry in spots, but the narrator made it all interesting.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The Cthulu song by the mad sorceror's cracked me up.

Any additional comments?

Great humor, a fun read. Be warned the second book is ok, but not near as good as the first. I am waiting for the third novel to see if the author picks it back up.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • CA, United States
  • 09-14-12

Fun macabre, occult, tale in Belle Époque Britain

Fun story, great historical setting, humorous situations & dialogue, interesting characters, rich prose and a narrator who just knocked it out of the park. If you agree with my other reviews, trust me on this on this one.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Most Excellent Story and Reader

One of my favorite books, the best I have 'read' in a long time.
Solid plot, A book you can't put down, suspense and sarcasam with a bit of British Humor. A sort of Monty Phyton meets Satan kind of humor, yet dark enough to make you keep the lights on at night !

And Christopher Cazenove is an outstanding reader.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Thomas
  • Nashville, Tunisia
  • 12-19-09

More johannes please

Perfect pitch dark fantasy comedy.Dripping with sarcasm and wit, johannes and his brother weave a great story. Fans of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett will not be disappointed.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Lesley
  • Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada
  • 09-21-09


A great book to cheer you up while stuck in rush hour traffic! Very funny and well performed.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Completely Captivated

I have now heard all the books in this series and the only criticism I have is that the narrator changes through the series. Although Christopher Cazenove is the best of them, fortunately, all are quite competent. And, since Jonathan L. Howard does not follow the current overly used trend of first person, his third person narrative is not really harmed by the change in narration.

It is hard to describe this book or this series that is a fantasy turn on alternate reality with a bit of steampunk, but I found myself completely captivated, thoroughly entertained, and desperate for more. Howard's writing is witty, wry, sardonic, and very clever and his characterizations are brilliant - odd and strangely sympathetic. One reviewer aptly compared the tone to "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", but this is much more fast paced with characters that are ultimately more likable as bits and pieces of the backstory fill in the gaps. This is my favorite type of series - each of the books delivers a satisfying resolution to the immediate conflict with an overarching goal that ties the series together so each book is a credit-worthy experience.

Dark and delicious - I can't wait to forget the plot points in the series so I can enjoy it again!

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • connor
  • 10-06-17

Get past the first hour I beg you

Every book in this series has a dry start to it don't expect you can just skip through sections unfortunately. But get past that and it's a fantastic read Johannes is not a hero more a anti hero cold logical but kind in his own distant way.dangerously smart and always has a plan every book is different with only the characters as a constant in this series one day he running a carnival next he is solving murders on a blimp.the modernism can leave you scratching your head but does not affect the story as a whole .