The Short Version: When last we left Johannes Cabal, necromancer, things looked grim. Death, it seemed, might’ve finally come for him – but at the last moment, a surprising figure appeared… his brother! His dead vampire brother, who is now mysteriously returned to life (or, well, undeadness – he’s still a vampire). Horst explains to Johannes what brought him from un-undeadness to this point and recruits Johannes to battle an evil that may have its sights set on true global domination.
The Review: The Cabal Brothers ride again!
I will admit that when the fine folks at Macmillan dispatched an ARC my way, I did indeed let out a Lucille Bluth-esque scream of excitement. I will admit that, reader, because I am a grown (ish) man who understands that sometimes excitement cannot be contained. Sometimes it must be allowed to effervesce. Because what could be more exciting, in this oddest of summer weathers (you know, the kind that feels peremptorily like fall), than to get a jump on experiencing the next Johannes Cabal (necromancer of some little infamy) adventure?
At that moment – and for the entire reading experience – I say that there could not be anything more exciting.
Howard’s creation has returned intact, for all intents and purposes – and one of his best sparring partners has returned too. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that, indeed, it’s Horst who is back. How?! Why?! How does Johannes feel about this?! Excellent questions! All will be answered, in due time and with that smirking British humor that I love so much. As if it wasn’t obvious from the outset of the series, by now it is clear that Howard has earned a berth alongside the Ffordes and Gaimans and Pratchetts – Englishmen (well, guys from the UK – Jasper is Welsh) who deliver whirling flights of imagination with a dose of social commentary, a healthy amount of excitement, and an ever-ready droll authorial voice. Again, I challenge readers to tackle a Cabal book in public without at least snorting or stifling a snicker.
He allows a bit of a shift, this time around, though. After all, Johannes was rather nearly on death’s doorstep and so he needs some time to recuperate. Similarly, we have to catch up on Horst’s travails – and the first half of the book is dedicated to exactly that. Johannes’ interjections are footnotes or occasional interludes (mostly short, but some of titularly greater length) and that’s it. Instead, we’re given an opportunity to reconnect with a character who simply hasn’t gotten as much stage time as the series’ main anti-hero. As such, the book earns its change in titling conventions: this is a book split squarely between the two brothers. This has the spectacular benefit of also raising the all-around quality of the book – for Johannes almost needs someone else to be able to balance the stage. He’s such a fully-formed character and one of such strong ambition, ego, and persona that few if any have really held their own against him on the page. But Horst gives as good as he gets and the cracks of humanity in Johannes’ facade continue to show signs of a positive widening. Their interplay, even in the simplest of moments, just brings some really lovely heart to the proceedings.
As for said proceedings, well, there’s a whole lot happening. Obviously a reader without previous knowledge of Johannes’ adventures will be nearly hopelessly lost (or incredibly brave, as one footnote puts it) – but even I had to take a moment and flip back through earlier books every once and a while, to remember if story X was in fact the thing I remembered from book Y or if it was some other adventure only ever alluded to. Happily enough, both of those things were the case at one point or another, meaning that (to me, anyway) Howard has created a universe large enough to contain all of these other possible stories. They exist out there, probably never to be written down but to color the future nonetheless. The connections, meanwhile, that are starting to be made across the books so far all point to that future being rather cohesive for the series. After all, a man is only as good as his nemesis…
Rating: 5 out of 5. I mean, I might be biased: I love autumn, I love adventure, I love British humor – and I love a smart hand on the tiller of a story. Sure, it could be argued that there are a couple of moments that feel a bit rushed and the end is nearly an anti-climax (although really it’s just more of a semi-cliffhanger) – but who cares? Who cares about that when you’ve got characters who you just want to spend time with? Johannes and Horst together do something I never quite imagined: they make Johannes Cabal stories even better than they already were. With any luck, we’ll see more to come – because there’s room, damn it, in this world for a necromancer of some little infamy and his vampire brother. My only regret is that I read this so fast and so soon in the year.