Jonathan L. Howard Reunites the Dream Team
In our real world cults and occult practices are more often than not associated with tragedy on the fringe of society, resulting in many unnecessary deaths and countless mistreatments in the past few decades. While the romanticism around these cults may have died a while ago, they still remain present in both the media and reality. Thankfully though, their importance in the world isn’t as big, nor are their powers nearly as strong as in Jonathan L. Howard’s Johannes Cabal series. In The Brothers Cabal, the fourth book in the series, we are once again blessed with a reunion for the ages as Johanne’s vampire brother Horst comes back into the picture.
The story opens with an occult conspiracy working some dark magic to bring Horst back to life, hoping to make him general of the undead army they are amassing. Their goal is to essentially create a county for all the supernatural horrors to live in, hopefully amassing a large enough of force to eventually conquer the entire world. Their plan, however, has a tiny problem they failed to foresee: Horst doesn’t care for any of it.
Though he did consider taking them on by himself, the resurrected vampire thought better of it upon seeing the immense power they already wield and the sacrifices they are prepared to make in order to achieve their goals. Thankfully, his amoral necromancer brother, Johannes, is precisely the type of ally he needs to shift the odds in his favour. Thus, the two brothers set out on an often uncomfortable and awkward adventure to destroy monsters from beyond the realms of perception, take the time to chat with secret societies, and somehow save the entire world without really intending to.
A New Leader
The first aspect which will probably jump out directly to anyone who has read some of the previous novels in the series, is the fact we are actually switching main characters from Johannes to Horst. It is definitely a bold move for any author to make, but I believe it turned out about as well as it possibly could have.
While I can’t exactly be certain of this, I do think this decision was at least partially motivated by the increased negative reception of Johannes’ character, with some people perhaps feeling he had achieved his ceiling as a character. Of course, this isn’t to say the necromancer doesn’t still play a large role; he is very much present but takes a bit of a back-seat. This is just to say there is likely a practical reasoning behind this decision, and the author wasn’t simply throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
So how exactly does he fare in the driver’s seat? In my personal opinion, Horst definitely has what it takes to play first fiddle, being rather profound in his own ways. The author definitely has a knack for a sarcastic and ridiculous type of humour, and it shows in this character. While being a vampire with some powers of his own, he has no interest in undead pursuits and would much rather prefer to keep his sense of fashion up to date and stop any dirt from clinging to his shoes. His generally dismissive and uninterested attitude towards the plot of the book makes for some fairly hilarious moments, especially in his interactions with his brother.
Familiar Monsters in The Brothers Cabal
Outside from this switch in lead roles, the world we are plunged into is one many of us are already familiar with. It’s one where few things make actual sense and monsters seem hell-bent on destroying everything despite their continued ineptitude at doing so. The story takes us along through this world at a pretty quick pace and tries to show us as much of the surrealistic and ridiculous as possible. There are plenty of secondary characters from all walks of destiny breathing life into the story, each one being a potential set-up for whatever wild lands the author’s imagination might wander to. Needless to say, we also get our expected share of action and monster slaying, something never amiss in the Johannes Cabal series.
In my opinion, what truly defines this novel, at least in relation to its predecessors, is the snarky and witty dynamic between Horst and Johannes which persists throughout the entire book. I never grew tired of their sarcastic banters with each other and all the hilarious ways in which they contrasted. At the same time we also get to learn quite a fair bit about both of them and are reminded they are, in their own ways of course, still people with aspirations of their own, rather than entertainers who happen to fight the occult.
Speaking of which, the villains themselves are the only aspect where I experienced a tiny bit of disappointment, as we were once again treated to largely the same lineup of monsters as before, with zombies, werewolves and vampires leading the charge. There were also some efforts to include Lovecraftian horror into it, but ultimately I believe those of us familiar with the genre won’t find anything new here. While the bad guys are by no means badly-written, they do fail to live up to the high standards set by the rest of what the novel has to offer.
The Final Verdict
The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard is a quality addition to the Johannes Cabal series and successfully diverges into a new direction by putting the vampire brother Horst in the main character role. Regardless of whether or not you’ve read the previous books in the series, I do believe you will highly enjoy this novel if you like sarcastic and irreverent humour mixed with paranormal monster slaying.
Jonathan L. Howard is a British game designer and writer whose body of work includes writing the Broken Sword game series, The Russalka Chronicles series, and most prominently, the Johannes Cabal series with novels such as Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and Johannes Cabal the Detective. He has also penned a number of short fiction works, including “Exeunt Demon King”, “The Death of Me” and “A Long Spoon”.