I read this literally in less than 24 hours. I had a bit of a weird weekend, intending to take a power nap around 6:30 on Saturday to get ready to go out… and waking up around 4:30am. Wide awake and ready to rock. Oops. So, along with doing a bit of writing, I started this book (instead of my originally intended next-book, Water for Elephants, which has actually maybe been knocked one peg down again because I think Chronic City needs to come next). Caught a few more hours’ sleep around 7, then went out on this gray and cloudy day to Union Square. Did some more writing, then commenced to devouring this book.
And what a brilliant book for a gray and cloudy day. Johannes Cabal is not the nicest anti-hero, but I like him. He’s funny, he’s smart (although not wildly clever, I have to say – well, for part of the book anyway), and he’s a fully formed character for me. I like him. I’m very curious about him though, as this book didn’t develop much backstory. He’s got a brother: check. His parents are dead: check. There’s (EXCISED BECAUSE ITS TOO MUCH OF A SPOILER BECAUSE IT COMES AT LITERALLY THE END OF THE BOOK AND I WAS LIKE “WHAAAAAT?!?!”): check. But what’s the deal with all of that, with his past, with all of that? There’s reference at one point to some of his adventures, leading one to believe that he’s a bit of a necromantic Indiana Jones – which is interesting, but is it true?
The tone of the book was suited to its landscape – which felt like a cross between the American Heartland and the English countryside where it was apparently (I think) set. It seemed like it was maybe the English countryside, anyway – the names, surely, imply that – but it had that Bradbury-ian quality of America. Not surprisingly, Jonathan Howard thanks Bradbury first and foremost at the end of the novel. I liked the vaguely netherworldic atmosphere and today’s gray qualities suited it quite nicely.
It was actually a bit short – though if it’d been longer, I may’ve liked it less… if that makes sense. There were references to some of the vaguely evil things that Cabal may’ve been involved with over the course of the year… but I was never entirely clear if he was, as only some of those references (italicized things at the end of some but not all chapters) would be referenced later. The tone of the entire novel was pitch-perfect though. I bought Cabal’s heart, hidden as it was. I loved the humor – some of which made me laugh out loud and stop reading for a moment just to re-read and re-laugh at the joke – and the ease with which the macabre became ordinary. Cabal’s world is, perhaps, the one I wish I lived in – and I look forward to the continuation of the series in order to continue living in that world. Vampires, the Devil himself, implication of other mysterious and magic things… I like it.
Oh, there’s a sequence I particularly enjoyed in a pocket universe that involves a croquet match. Brilliant stuff. Just my kind of weird.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. A great debut of a great character. The tone is just right for early autumn and has got me right in the mood for the creepy and spooky just around the corner. Call me a weirdo, but that’s enough to make a book great – making the reader happy for the real world he returns to because it fits so well with the world he was just in.