My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve grown to really enjoy the Cabal series. The humor is droll, some of the social commentary is rather arch, but the overall narrative is of splendid adventure. The central figure, Johannes Cabal, is a necromancer in a world where necromancy is hardly an honorable profession. Indeed, Cabal’s inner monologue and side observations indicate he has had to remain one step ahead of a Noose/Guillotine/Firing Squad throughout his career, though no specifics are revealed by the series’ author, Jonathan Howard. Mr. Howard is a writer of considerable talent, with an innate ability to set a scene and construct gems of dialogue.
If you have read the first novel, you will note that #2, The Detective, takes place a decent amount of time after the events of the first novel, where Cabal was forced to collect 100 souls (by none other than the devil himself) in return for his soul. Perhaps a year or more later, in fact. Cabal is on the continent… somewhere. We’ll circle back to the setting. His attempt to burgle a rare text on necromancy lands him on the wrong side of a sadistic Balkan count’s graces.
The Cabal novels appear to be taking place in an alternative Edwardian to early 20th century era, before the Great War robbed life of any niceties. There are recognizable countries like England and Italy, and Balkan style fictional states with names made up out of whole cloth (Merkavia) to borrowed from other works (Graustark). No maps exist of the Cabalverse that I know of.
Cabal departs the fictional Balkan state (Merkavia) by hiding aboard a Zeppelin traveling North. The Zeppelin is packed with relief supplies for a Northern neighbor going through a drought. Or is it? A murder happens, and the story shifts to “Locked Room Mystery” mode. I won’t reveal any spoilers about the plot henceforth, but it does roll trippingly along from there and resolves itself in grand style– with gunshots, crashing airships, duels and a demonic entity from the past.
Johannes Cabal the Detective is a splendid read and it sets up Number 3 nicely. Highly recommended as a few nights’ diversion.