Jonathan L Howard’s second novel featuring the necromancer Johannes Cabal is set in a steampunk world. One of the things I really like about this series is that each novel is set and told in a different style, like Ray Bradbury (novel 1-Johannes Cabal the Necromancer) and HP Lovecraft (novel 3-The Fear Institute). The novel opens with Cabal unsuccessfully trying to steal a rare book containing secrets of necromancy. He manages to escape by infuriating and dueling his interrogator, then steals the identity of a civil servant for the journey by aeroship out of the country. Once on board, Cabal meets an acquaintance from a previous novel and gets embroiled in a murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
I have two favorite things about this novel. First is the reintroduction of Leonie Barrow, who plays a small but crucial role in the first novel. She’s a great foil for Cabal, and making her a student of criminology makes for some great analysis of Cabal in front of him. The second great thing about this story is the reveal of the whodunit. I really didn’t see it coming, and Cabal’s Holmesian explanation shows the entire set up in a way that a reader can go back and actually realize that she should have noticed that (unlike with the Holmes explanation-reveals).
I do think that the writing sparkled a lot more in the first novel than in this one. Both the narration and the dialogue in this second book took me longer to start enjoying. Part of it was that there was a lot more humor (dark but still funny) in the interactions between Cabal and his brother in the first novel. Leonie is problematic for Cabal which is unusual for him, and that’s part of what makes her a great character. However, this also means that Cabal has trouble being his usual snarky self around her. Furthermore, Cabal spends most of the novel trying to pretend to be a civil servant and has to make an effort not to be himself, and himself is what makes the stories.
I am really looking forward to the fourth novel coming out in paperback this October and there are some short stories featuring Cabal that I plan to read. To anyone who likes to read classic horror and fantasy (of the sort not involving vaguely medieval goings on), you need to try these. I would strongly suggest that you start with the first as it’s the best and easiest to get into. The novels don’t require being read in order to understand, but there are scattered little details that make a lot more sense if you do.