Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Johannes Cabal: The Detective, by Jonathan L. Howard

Today I'm looking at the second of the Johannes Cabal books, this one titled The Detective. In the plot of this story Johannes sneaks into an Eastern European Ruritania-esque country to steal the Pincipia Necromantica. I have to say Ruritania-esque because Ruritania itself gets a shout-out among a bunch of other little states that have long histories of fighting each other. After a short run-in with the law and an unfortunate incident involving a deceased emperor, Cabal finds it would be conducive to his continued health to leave the country with all alacrity. Stealing the identity of a civil servant, Cabal manages to get onto the maiden voyage of the airship Princess Hortense and looks forward to a nice, quiet, and rapid escape.

Unfortunately for Cabal there are two problems which instantly derail his plans. First he runs into Leonie Barrow, who he previously met when he was in possession of a soul-stealing carnival and knows full well who he is and more importantly, what he is. If Leonie wishes, she could decry Cabal to every authority figure and have him dragged away in chains. The second problem is a mysterious murder in which a passenger suspiciously jumps through the window of his stateroom. At least, that's what we're led to believe but there's something about the situation that doesn't make sense. And if there's one thing Cabal can't leave alone it's a puzzle. And when someone tries to kill Cabal after he starts investigating it becomes a personal mission.

As I sort of said in my review of the last book, I'm kind of mixed on my opinion on this book. And I think it comes down to the story versus the main character himself. The writing is actually pretty good. There are some parts where it gets a little slow but there are so many parts of this book that are filled with bitterly dry wit and I love it. A good example is a joke made about the English who treat the entire world as if it belongs to them and everyone else is just living their at their convenience. There are plenty of really good jokes like that and I found myself laughing a couple of times as I listened to this book, so for that at least the book is well worth the effort.

The problem I have seems to be Johannes himself because I'm not really sure what to think about him. I mostly know what his motivations are and why he's become a necromancer but he's still kind of a jerk. He has no problem killing people who get in his way or annoy him too much and since he's basically looking at a death sentence for being a necromancer anyway obeying lesser laws has largely become a matter of choice for him. I will say there has been some development of Johannes as a character now that he has his soul back. He's even having pangs of conscience during the book, which is a definite improvement on his character. But he's still...not exactly the most pleasant person. If he isn't an anti-hero he's definitely an anti-villain and that can be a hard character to like.

There's also the ''when the heck are we'' problem which I also had in the last book although in this case with aetheric-energy powered airships it definitely feels more like a steampunk novel. I'm beginning to think when this book happens is far less important to story anyway.

Overall, my opinion's ultimately mixed. On the one hand I really enjoy Howard's writing and he has some real talent for making witty observations. On the other hand, Cabal's not the most pleasant character to follow and it's really hard to like him. But it's definitely interesting and memorable, so I think that's really good for a book.

- Kalpar

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