Jonathan L. Howard Begins the Final Chapter
Writing a book series is often a harder task than it might seem at first. While at a cursory glance it would appear have predefined elements would help when it comes to writing sequels, it is far outweighed by the cumbersome task of having to keep the story fresh and original. In my opinion, and this goes for pretty much any form of media entertainment, far too numerous are the book series overstaying their welcome, veering into repetitive and asinine territory. It takes a good amount of foresight, consideration, and of course, willpower, to end a series at the correct moment, and I believe Jonathan L. Howard managed to achieve such a feat with The Fall of the House of Cabal.
The fifth and final novel in the series, it transports us back to the gritty arcane underworld of London, whose denizens are more often than not straight out of a horror encyclopedia. Johannes Cabal has been through a lot in the past four novels, and he is now closer than ever to his actual final goal: a cure for death, a path to immortality. And by closer than ever, I mean he has found a vague clue to set him on a long and treacherous path into unknown territories.
Johannes knows this isn’t a road he is capable of walking alone, and so he enlists the help of his vampire brother Horst, as well as a criminologist and a devil. Together, they venture forth to find the ancient esoteric tome which promises to bring back the dead. Even if they do not entirely believe in the truth of their quest, the potential of truth keeps driving them onward, deeper and deeper into demonic and fiendish realms where even Johannes might be out of his depth.
As a little disclaimer, while it is the final book in the series, technically it does work as a standalone novel and can be read with no knowledge of the previous books. However, I do believe they are worth reading and without a doubt would enhance your enjoyment of this fifth novel, especially when talking about relatable characters.
The Evolution of a Necromancer
When it comes to any good book series revolving around a specific protagonist, it goes without saying the character needs to be crafted and developed with a lot of care and precision to consistently draw sympathy and interest from the reader. When it comes to Johannes, the truth is in my opinion, over the course of five whole books he has faltered a bit here and there, at times feeling less engaging and relatable than others. In this fifth outing, however, I feel we witness him in his best form, wearing the accumulation of his development across multiple books.
It feels as if Howard allowed Cabal to evolve naturally over the course of his adventures, and as a result we now have before us an experienced and weathered man with a good sense of morbid humour and enough depth to write an essay. If there were moments in the previous books where he felt out of his depth, powerless or lacking in intelligence, in this one we see him fully fill the shoes of the capable leader we always knew he could be.
As with virtually any character, a part of their appeal comes from how they contrast and compare with the rest of the cast. In my eyes, it was a pure pleasure seeing Johannes reunited with his brother Horst, even if the latter seems a tad more inept than the last time we met him. The way in which they play off each other feels very natural, often leading to some hilariously dark interactions, the kind you would expect a necromancer and a vampire to have. There is, of course, a whole contingent of memorable characters to support our heroes’ endeavours and they leave their mark on the story in one way or another.
The Ultimate Life Quest
Looking at all the missions and quests novel heroes go on these days, I think we can all agree the defeat of death to be way up there in terms of importance, probably right below saving humanity from total and imminent annihilation. Even so, I always got a sense the author was approaching this subject from a slightly more lighthearted perspective, the gravity of the situation giving way to numerous moments of comic relief. If anything, the final prize only feels like a tool to motivate our protagonist to walk an incredible journey.
Pace-wise, the novel is fairly relentless as Howard doesn’t spend much time dawdling on descriptions and the like. When it comes to characters, at this point, he lets their words, actions and history from the previous novels dictate our perception of them. He always tries to move the action forward, and his proficient use of simple and direct language definitely made this novel into what people call a page-turner.
While in the end Johannes doesn’t exactly find himself truly challenged by his nemesis (a state of affairs which saddened me a little bit), I felt he received the fulfilling conclusion he was deserving of. Naturally, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say there are definitely far more painful ways to end a series, and I am happy Howard brought it all to a close when he felt the time was correct. Ultimately it makes for a bittersweet journey with Johannes and his motley crew of misfits and demonic creatures, knowing this will likely be the last time we are graced with their presence.
The Final Verdict
The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard is a very solid and enjoyable farewell to a series which certainly has earned its place on my bookshelf. It ties together all which was set up and developed in the previous novels, taking us on a memorable adventure coloured by morbid laughter and the arcane. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has read the previous books, as well as any fans of dark fantasy and steampunk fiction in general.
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”.