Saturday, June 27, 2009
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
45. Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard
When you sell your soul to the devil, there's always a catch. When Johannes Cabal sold his, he thought it was irrelevant to his researches. He found that it wasn't. So he went to Hell to get it back.
Now Satan isn't generally inclined to return souls, but he also loves a wager. So he made a bet: if Cabal garnered him 100 souls within a year, he could have his soul again. To assist him in this endeavour, Cabal was supplied with the Carnival of Discord, which he will staff with "people" conjured from bits of bone and hair and fat, with runaway insane asylum inmates (who chant a hymn to Cthulhu) and various and sundry other odd fellows. They travel the country, and at each stop Cabal gets more contracts signed.
The Faust legend is so old, and has been done so many times, that it's hard to find a fresh take on it. This Howard accomplishes, and he does so with a delightfully wry sense of humor. Did you know that you must apply to be admitted to Hell? If you don't fill out the "Infernal Regions (Local Authority) Hades Admission Application -- Provisional (AAAA/342)" properly, back you go to the end of the line, and a couple of thousand more forms, all vetted by the very annoying Arthur Trubshaw.
But there's more to this story than humor. We learn that Cabal is responsible for his brother's transformation to a vampire, yet he calls upon him for help in his quest. The brother is the moral side of Cabal, and as they travel, carnies together, this rubs off on Cabal, until, at last, he must trick the Devil again.
A most enjoyable first novel, and it's not a surprise when one reads in the Acknowledgements a brief homage to Ray Bradbury, whose Something Wicked this Way Comes caused Howard to wonder where an evil carnival would come from. He has given us a quite credible answer here.