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The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard
Book Name: Johannes Cabal: The Detective
Author: Jonathan L. Howard
Publisher(s): Doubleday
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: July 13, 2010

“Don’t think you can quantify me and put me in a thesis. A census taker once tried to test me. I let my front garden eat him.” – Johannes Cabal

a necromancer of some little infamy by CatastrophiliaJohannes Cabal: The Detective is Jonathan Howard’s second novel featuring the title character, a necromancer of some little infamy. While the first novel took its inspiration from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, this one combines Murder on the Orient Express with steampunk while keeping its grim humor and fantasy.

The novel opens with Cabal in prison, awaiting execution. Considering he’s a necromancer, it’s rather surprising there is a wait at all, as his profession is feared and hated by pretty much everyone. His captor, Count Marechal, offers him a deal: resurrect the dead Emperor so the Count can use him as his personal puppet, and he’ll let Cabal go free. Expecting the dangerous and blood-thirsty Count to go back on his word, Cabal instead gives the undead Emperor a taste for brains and runs.

Assuming the identity of a boring civil servant, he boards the Princess Hortense, Mirkarvia’s finest luxury aeroship. All he wants to do is lay low and disembark when the ship docks in Senza, the country Count Marechel so desperately wants a war with. But this would be a rather boring book if everything went according to plan, and on the first evening of the trip, one of the guests appears to have committed suicide. Not convinced that it actually is a suicide, especially when someone tries to kill him as well, Cabal begins to investigate even though this may expose his true identity. Over the course of the novel the bodies continue to pile up, and Cabal realizes that the mystery is far larger and much more dangerous than he had anticipated, and that solving it could cost him his life.

::From here on, there will be spoilers, both for this novel and the first one.::

Johannes Cabal by morganchanAfter reclaiming his soul in the first book, Cabal returned to his ultimate goal: trying to discover a way to defeat death. He still walks the line between rational cynic and evil monster, but there are moments where his soul tugs at him, much to his chagrin. I loved that Cabal’s personality didn’t do a complete one-eighty, that this series isn’t turning out to be a predictable redemption story. Instead Howard writes a character for whom having a conscience is a burden. Cabal’s biting wit and personality carry the story, and buoy up any weaknesses the novel may have in other areas. Cabal’s character arc also leads us through the novel’s thematic heart, exploring ideas such as whether the ends justify the means, without beating us over the head with a moral lesson. As in the first novel, Cabal is delightful to read about, and I was glad to return to his world and follow him on another adventure.

I want to discuss the female characters in the novel, particularly Leonie Barrow. She is also a passenger on the Princess Hortense, and the only person on the ship that knows Cabal’s identity. And she is still very pissed off with him for threatening her, her father, and her town with eternal damnation. I didn’t think much of her in the first novel because she’s in it for such a short time, and she’s a sort of girl-next-door character. In this novel she is far more fleshed out, and Howard expands both on her insightful heroine persona while showing us the impact meeting Cabal has had on her life. She’s studying criminal psychology, and is written as both competent and smart enough to match wits with Cabal from time to time. And she provides some insight into the necromancer’s character and motives with her own observations about him, as well as sparking a realization in Cabal that gives him a better idea of who he is. While he does end up saving her in the end of the story, it isn’t because she blindly walked into danger as a damsel in distress. The other female characters in this novel are memorable as well, having distinct personalities and quite a few secrets.

::End Spoilers::

This is my favorite book in the series so far. You don’t have to read the first book to follow the story in this one. In fact, I’d say you can read the first three in any order and understand what’s going on, though there are references to previous stories in the series for the devoted fans. If you enjoyed the first book, while this one is a bit different in tone and pacing, it’s still a delightful read, and does a good job leading into the next one, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute.


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  1. […] Review for Jonathan L. Howard’s book Johannes Cabal The Detective is up on Fantasy Faction! Check it and all the other great articles and reviews out at the link […]

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