Book Review: Johannes Cabal the Detective

I have long held a desire to read the Johannes Cabal series of books after the cover of the second one caught my eye in a Barnes and Noble a few years ago (yes, I am a cover-whore). I remember picking up the first book and stumbling through the text and thinking “Ouch! Who would read this?!” due to its unique grammar structure and use of old and rarely used words. Needless to say I put the book down and never looked back.

That was until about seven months ago when I discovered Kindle samples and downloaded the first book’s sample. I valiantly attempted a second climb through the digital pages…and subsequently failed. I think anyone would agree I made a brave attempt by passing the 100 page mark but I ultimately gave up. The book was just difficult to read and I could not wrap my head around this Cabal character.

A few weeks ago the second book’s cover caught my eye. My penchant love for anything steampunk proved the better of me and I downloaded the sample. The stars aligned. Pigs sprouted wings and took to air. Somewhere, an angel got their wings. I made it through the sample and actually enjoyed myself while reading the opening of the book. I risked everything and purchased the book.

The blurb:

In this genre-twisting novel, infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal, after beating the Devil and being reunited with his soul, leads us on another raucous journey in a little-known corner of the world. This time he’s on the run from the local government. 

Stealing the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal takes passage on the Princess Hortense, a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape, until he comes face-to-face with Leonie Barrow, an enemy from the old days who could blow his cover. But when a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears, Cabal begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts result in a vicious attempt on his own  life—and then the gloves come off. 

Cabal and Leonie—the only woman to ever match wits with him—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more narrow escapes, involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction, not to mention resurrected dead . . . 

This structure of this book is a little odd, perhaps that is part of its charm. In my eyes the book is really three short stories. The first sets up how Cabal escapes a madman as he helps start a civil war. The second is a trip aboard a flying ship (I must note that the one in the book is most notably nothing like the one on the cover). The last 40ish pages are written in an entirely different vein and cover the occurrences immediately following the results of the second story.

All three tales are decently told, hold your attention, and play an interesting insight into what makes Cabal tick. Some of this information you will not want to know. Cabal is the best of the worst of anti-heroes ever put to page. He is cruel, evil, plotting, conniving, mean, but also intelligent, resourceful and to top it off, a necromancer. While it is mentioned far too many times to count, his skill is brought to bear but twice. More often than not his strongest power is simply his wit and intelligence.

My one main complaint with the book is that it appears to be striving to be a Sherlockian adventure complete with strange speaking sentence structure and the almost extreme overuse of archaic words that few alive will know the meaning of. Thank the Lord I use my Kindle App and can find definitions of words with a single tap, otherwise I would have been left wondering what a word meant probably about once ever three or four pages. I found this tedious and annoying at times. Frequently I felt like that little kid talking to their older brother who purposefully uses big scientific words simply to make me feel inferior to him.

I understand the female protagonist, Leonie, was present in the first book and she was a welcome addition to this tale. The perfect foil for Cabal, their dialogue was probably the one thing I enjoyed the most about the book. She loves him it is clear, but she hates what he is at the same time. The built up, and often hinted at, love story never fully develops. I think this was a wise choice for the author. If Leonie fell for Cabal I think it would jump the shark and make this just not as good a book. As is, this is a perfect sub-plot roller coaster to add just the right amount of flair to the tale.

This tale is truly an internal struggle for the reader as Cabal is the guy you love to hate, the one you shouldn’t but do find yourself rooting for. He really is a terrible person, more often doing the right thing, the nice thing, only because it affords him a better position later. When the sh|t hits the fan, this would be the guy throwing the poo directly at you. Cabal, love him or hate him, he is an entertaining fellow.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a good read, just one that took a bit longer and felt a bit more like a struggle to get through than others I have read. I would recommend it for those that like a little challenge and enjoy something a little different. I would add that reading the first does not seem to be a requirement to enjoy this book. There seemed to be some back story I missed from the first book about the relationship between Leonie (and her father) and Cabal, but this was nothing that seemed so important that it was necessary to have read before this book.

Next book up for review is The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson. This is the story of a young girl thrust into a wild tale involving the American Revolutionary War, pirates, nuns and secrets. The blurb:

America is on the brink of war with England, and Fin Button is about to come undone. She’s had it with the dull life of the orphanage, and she’s ready to marry Peter and get away from rules, chores, and a life looked after by the ever-watchful Sister Hilde. But an unexpected friendship forms between Fin and the fiddle-playing cook, Bartimaeus, which sets her on a course for revolution.

With Bart’s beloved fiddle and haunting blunderbuss as her only possessions, Fin discovers her first taste of freedom as a sailor aboard the Rattlesnake. She’s hiding some dark secrets, but there are bigger problems for the crew—they are on the run from the Royal Navy, and whispers of mutiny are turning the captain into a tyrant.

When Fin finally returns home, will she find Peter still waiting, or will she find that she’s lost everything she once held dear?


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