I had to go back through old reviews to see if I’d done this one before, and it turns out that 1) I seem to have done the rest of the series but not this first novel, and 2) a novel from this series was close to my first ever Cannonballer review (third one I think). Good times.
I decided to re-read this for 2 reasons: 1) I wanted to do a Halloween read that was not Cassidy Blake 2 because I’m saving that for actual Halloween and something to do between door-bell rings, and 2) I am planning on using this novel in an intro to lit class in the spring.
The basic plot and premise is an entertaining mix of quite a few fantasy-horror tropes, which makes it a fun read and a good candidate for a research paper assignment. The story goes like this: one Johannes Cabal has sold his soul to the devil for the secrets of necromancy, but he wants his soul back when he realizes he needs it to complete some sort of important personal goal (somewhat revealed in the novel’s final moments). Satan agrees to a wager, that if Cabal can collect 100 souls for him within a year, then Cabal can have his own soul back. Cabal is then given access to an infernal carnival and a budget of devil magic to get people to sell or give him their souls. For one final push of assistance, Johannes enlists his brother Horst who is now a vampire, a situation for which Johannes might have been at least a little responsible. Then, the game is on.
This novel is a great mix of so many traditions including the obvious Bradbury salute (I’ve gotten stuck about halfway through that novel, review to come soon I hope), Faust, Hell and demons, the katabasis, vampires, carnies, necromancy and its related branches of mad science and/or alchemy (and the philosophers stone), and the anti-hero. Cabal himself is the perfect mix of terrible person, and yet even soulless as he is for most of the novel, he still manages to be at least a little bit sympathetic in that at least he’s better than a lot of the demons and things that try to get in his way, and quite a few of the people he wins over are, as Horst notes, likely to have ended up in the infernal realm post-mortem anyways. A few of the people (and I do mean actual people) get some personality and those who do are pretty interesting characters, especially those named Barrow. The contrast between Frank and Cabal along with potential comparisons are pretty interesting. The one thing that would have bothered me a little if I had not read the rest of the series already is Johannes and Horst’s final scene since the impact of it seems like it should have been more important, but a few novels later turns out to have not been as bad as one might have thought.