Today’s review is of The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard, out September 30.

Please note that The Brothers Cabal is the fourth of Howard’s Johannes Cabal series. To begin at the beginning (as you should), start with Johannes Cabal the Necromancer.

And as always, reviews have spoilers.

Confession: I adore the Johannes Cabal books. If you’re looking for any sort of objectivity in your book reviews, you’re not going to find that here. I like to think my opinion is totally warranted, but I frankly don’t care. These are just my kind of books.

The Brothers Cabal picks up where The Fear Institute left off: Johannes, after his adventures against Nyarlathotep and time as a ghoul, finds himself on the brink of death just outside his garden gate. A strong and mysterious stranger picks him up, takes him into the house, and begins to care for him. The book closes with Johannes’ recognition of the figure and the line: “But . . . you’re dead . . .”

Which prompted a lot of all-caps texting and tweeting amongst my Cabal-reading buddies. There was only one person who could possibly have rescued Johannes and that was Horst, his brother-turned-vampire-turned-pile-of-dust who we haven’t seen since his demise in book one. And Horst it certainly is.

The Brothers Cabal, happily, answers nearly all of our Horst-related questions, while naturally raising a whole host of new ones in their stead. A diabolical secret society–in cahoots with an unknown entity called the Red Queen–has raised Horst from his post-undeath death with the intention of making him their Lord of the Dead, one of four supernatural generals to lead their army of horrors against the human world. We learn of Horst’s adventures through his narration to Johannes, who is still weak and in bed at the beginning of the novel. The newly-risen Horst must navigate a remote, central European castle full of zombies, were-creatures of all types, spies, and enterprising businessmen. Eventually, he falls in with the Dee Society on the side of humanity and convinces Johannes to join their cause.

The Brothers Cabal possesses the irresistible charm of the previous Cabal books, which is to say: these books are fun. Sure, there are unspeakable horrors and Elder Gods and evil carnivals and terrible deals with the devil. But Howard relates everything with a razor sharp wit that makes even the most gruesome aspects of Cabal’s adventures entertaining as hell. It doesn’t hurt that Johannes is such a fantastic character to begin with–coldly logical and of utterly dubious morals, but inflicted with a soul and an anything-but-cold mission. One of the pleasures of The Brothers Cabal is following Horst as he learns of his brother’s most recent dealings–in particular that Johannes has saved the world not once but twice since Horst’s death.

Of course, the reader has witnessed all of Johannes adventures and his reaction to Horst’s death in the first book. It surprises us not at all that Johannes so readily agrees to help Horst and his new allies. He will never be a warm and fuzzy kind of protagonist, but that’s ultimately what makes Johannes such a wonderful antihero. His rediscovery of his very inconvenient humanity is often as poignant as it is hilarious.

Meanwhile, Horst struggles to maintain his own humanity. He does internal battle with the insidious little voice of his vampirism, which bids him to drink at his leisure and cares little for the sanctity of life. While many of these exchanges are laugh-out-loud funny, we also understand the very real threat to Horst’s integrity.

Nor is The Brothers Cabal lacking in action. We have the usual zombies and vampires, but there’s also everything from a were-badger to a gigantic other-dimensional Daddy Longlegs and evil acidic amoebas. Other than the Dee Society, Horst befriends a flying circus of lady entomopter pilots. The battles are lively and suspenseful without being too drawn out or overly cinematic.

If the novel falters at all, it may be in the mystery of the Red Queen and her intentions. The book ends on a chilling cliffhanger, but we understand little of what might happen. I believe this has more to do with the book’s placement in the series than any failure of its plot or execution. By book four, it’s hard for any story to feel like a standalone adventure. Also, I would definitely suggest rereading the first three if it’s been a while.

Regardless, The Brothers Cabal is a highly entertaining continuation of the series, and I can’t wait to read more.

8/10

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Comments
  1. Ahahahaha “post-undeath death”! Awesome.

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