I have loved the Johannes Cabal series so far. Each installment is modeled on a different author-style, including Ray Bradbury, steam punk, Lovecraft, and a monster apocalypse. This latest looks like it will be modeled on Poe, just based on the title The Fall of the House Cabal, but it’s not. This one breaks from the trend, and does its own thing, which in a way is in keeping with traditions of the series. The author says so directly in the Preface. Some of the changes-additions work very well, other things less so. The other thing that the author tells you early on is that a lot of this book is based on happenings in previous volumes, and as such, it would be a good idea to have read the first four. This is most certainly true, and I would add, you should have read the first four recently. I have read all previous books, and some things I didn’t remember well enough to follow as well as I might have. For example, I do not remember Zarenyia from earlier stories, and she’s a pretty big part of this one.
One addition that I like are the snarky author/narrator comments in a few places, particularly the footnotes. I have no idea if it’s deliberate, but this tactic was perfected by Terry Pratchett, and continued here with a different flavor. Pratchett is funny in a Horatian satire way; Howard takes more the approach of Juvenal. If you don’t know your Roman satirists, this means Pratchett has an amused tone, and Howard’s has a darker edge. The notes continue even in the Acknowledgements at the end, which contains a note ending with the following: “I would also like to thank you, reader. It’s been a long haul to reach this point, and your enthusiasm is noted and appreciated. Unless, of course, you’re reading a pirated copy, in which case may you die alone in misery and poverty, and the little children dance upon your grave in the potter’s field.”
One of the keys to the Cabal series has been watching Cabal interacting with other characters. One thing this book does differently is spend a significant amount of time away from Johannes. About 40 pages of the novel follows Horst and Leonie with no Johannes. I like both of these characters, but together without Johannes, it just doesn’t work very well. The Holmesian plot to this segment works well in playing up some of the stereotypes of the genre, but the overall effect lacks the life (irony noted) that Johannes brings to things.
The second problem I had with this one is that because it relies heavily on all the other novels, bringing characters from each one together (a good idea in theory) is that it assumes a certain degree of character from previous knowledge, and promises to develop from there. Some characters do develop a bit or at least openly acknowledge that don’t/won’t change. Johannes, Horst, Leonie, and Zarenyia fall into this category. Miss Smith however gets left out. I don’t remember her being a hugely developed character from Book 3 (The Fear Institute), and here there is so little attention given to her, that her presence seems forced. I admit that this could again be my not remembering details, but it still bothered me.
While this may or may not be the final book of the series, it’s a largely suitable end of an arc, with the wrapping up of elements from stories past and present. It does feel a little unfinished though, since some characters go off to their renewed lives with more detail than others. Then again, maybe it’s just me hoping for another novel in the series.