Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Today is the one year blogoversary of Necromancy Never Pays!
See full size imageAs a fitting subject for the day, I offer you a review of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard. This book is scheduled for publication on July 7, 2009. It's not that compelling in terms of plot (in fact, I found the plot entirely predictable), but it has a lot of very funny situations and turns of phrase that kept me reading and laughing out loud.

Johannnes marches into hell and demands an audience with Satan, bypassing the supercilious clerk who keeps everyone else filling out forms for all eternity by showing him his own skull and threatening that he will "go back to the land of the living in a truly abominable mood, raise you as a body, and then make you wish you were dead all over again. Repeatedly." Johannes then makes a deal with the devil and gets put in charge of an evil carnival designed to identify people who will sign away their souls. He goes by a crypt and picks up his brother, who he had left for dead 8 years before and who is now a vampire, and they begin riding the rails with the "Cabal Brothers Carnival," which is really Satan's "Carnival of Discord." When they select the first person to sign away his soul, however, the plot twists a little, as the vampire brother, Horst, has selected a brutal man who beats and terrorizes his girlfriend. Johannes says "being dead has made you rather less liberal than I remember," to which Horst replies "my motto always used to be 'Live and let live.' Under the circumstances, I need a new one." And Johannes responds, saying "we're supposed to be doing the devil's work and you've gone and contaminated it all with the whiff of virtue. I really don't think you've quite got the hang of being an agent of evil." And, of course, as they continue selecting souls, the brothers manage to pick out only people who richly deserve to lose their souls.

The best parts of the novel are the parts in which Johannes or Horst lets a person go free, as they discover who is worthy of being damned and who is not. There's a wonderful scene with Johannes and a ghost he ends up sending off to heaven, and another with Horst in which he saves a young boy from signing away his soul to become an astronaut. The young boy writes his story for a school assignment, complete with the bits of the seduction adventure that didn't work very well on him, like the attention of "Valerie, the commandant's beautiful daughter" to whom he responds "I meen she's a GURL, uech, yak, spu. She wil want to kiss and talk about ponys."

After a climactic meeting with a lunatic would-be necromancer called Rufus Maleficarus and his singing Maleficarian Army, which makes Johannes remember "that the musical genius who'd decided to put on Necronomicon: The Musical had got everything he deserved: money, fame, and torn to pieces by an invisible monster," and during which Rufus manages to send Johannes to a "pocket world" in which time stands still and croquet is played sedately, even though "Cabal knew enough about croquet to know that it is a game with undercurrents: calculating, ruthless, and with a cold-blooded desire to destroy the opposition," Johannes lectures Rufus on necromancy:
"Your problem, Rufus Maleficarus, is that you never understood why magic was superceded by science. If you listen to the sad old wizards up in their keeps and the witches in the dales, you might believe it had something to do with the passing of the Seelie and the Unseelie from our world. Or the dust-sheet of cynicism settling on our hearts and driving out the wonder. Or children refusing to say that they believe in fairies. Poppycock. I'll tell you why. Convenience. I only practice necromantics because there's no other way of doing it. But when it comes to applied sciences, technologies, any spotty Herbert with a degree and a lab coat can perform greater wonders than Merlin."
The Johannes shoots Rufus, in a manner reminiscent of the Indiana Jones scene in which Indy shoots the guy who is whirling around in martial arts poses in front of him.

The predictability of the plot is broadcast before the end by a quarrel between the two brothers. Horst is horrified that Johannes is willing to tempt a woman into doing evil, rather than just taking the soul of someone who has already done evil. He tells Johannes to "look at yourself. Ye gods, Johannes, you were going to be a doctor! You wanted to help people." And Johannes replies "Doctors. Frauds and quacks. Just trying to hold back the dark and full of pat excuses when they fail. Too stupid or too scared to bring back the light. Not me. Not me! I'll be the modern Prometheus no matter what I have to do, no matter how dark I have to make it before I can find the secret." Yeah, modern Prometheus. In case you haven't seen a copy lately, that's the subtitle of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

But Johannes does not completely turn to "the dark side" in the end; neither does he give up necromancy. He and Satan finagle each other and Johannes comes out with some of what he wanted, and then goes home with two of the human figures he raised from the dead to work at his carnival:
"He opened the gate and walked in, followed by Dennis and Denzil. A multitude of tiny chiming voices started whispering from the herbaceous borders. 'It's Johannes Cabal! Johannes Cabal! He's back!' Dennis and Denzil, clown faces creaking, looked dubiously at each other. Cabal stopped by the corner of the house and pointed down the path that led around the side. 'You two. Nothing personal, but I'm not having a couple of shambling disasters like you shedding pieces all over the Persian rugs. Down there you'll find a hut. That's your new home.' As he watched them shuffle slowly out of sight, he ruminated that--not for the first time--he'd have something rather nasty in the woodshed."

It's the juxtaposition of Johannes Cabal's dark obsession with regaining his own soul and bringing the dead back to life for his own purposes with his acute sense of morality and the ridiculousness of the situations he finds himself in, especially with his brother, that gives this novel the tension that makes it worth reading.

Of course, as usual, necromancy doesn't pay.


Hugh said...

Glad to hear you found the book enjoyable, if not entirely compelling.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Happy blogoversary!

paj said...

Congrats on a year of blogging! Surely a celebration is in order. (I know how you love a holiday!)

SFP said...

Happy anniversary! I'm glad the book didn't undermine your blog's overriding purpose. ;)

And speaking of the Necronomicon, my son got a how-to book with this title by a one-name author last month for his birthday. He'd evidently mentioned to a friend that he was interested in Lovecraft, and well, he got this somehow instead.

(It looks tedious.)

Anonymous said...

Happy blogoversary! You are a shining example to me, a newbie blogger. And you found the perfect book to review on your big day--impressive.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for all the good wishes! I didn't actually find the book--it was serendipity--Hugh had it on his shelf last week when he let me borrow some ARCs. He did say "I knew you'd pick that one" when I picked it up!

Anonymous said...

Where does the time go!?! Happy anniversary!