Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, by Jonathan L. Howard
Readers, rejoice; Johannes Cabal is back. He is back in all of his tetchy, focused, pragmatic, and witty-observation laden glory. He is back, and he is hunting for a truly dangerous opponent, the Phobic Animus, the embodiment of fear itself. Johannes is familiar with the stuff of nightmares; he has bested Satan, stolen priceless knowledge from its rightful owners, and escaped (admittedly vermin-free) dungeons, but this time he must travel through the Dreamlands and seek mankind’s most constant enemy. Care to place a bet on which, necromancer or embodiment of fear, should be more terrified?
As always, Johannes Cabal is the master of the one-liner, the sharp and pointed insult, and the pithy observation. His daily life and purpose expose him to the more terrifying aspects of the universe, but his focus, and his pragmatic view of the world around him, rarely shift even an iota. His goal is too important to let the mundane (or the ghostly, dead, or just in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time) get in the way for very long.
But the Fear Insitute has appealed to two parts of Cabal’s personality more willing to help others: his curiosity and his need for more information to complete the task he has set himself. So, not so much the parts of his personality actually interested in others, but at least the bits less likely to feed those asking for the favours to the various little beasties that populate the front garden. The Fear Institute, you see, has something Cabal wants, the Silver Key to the Dreamlands–a way into that world for even the most pragmatic of souls.
Cabal and his trio of followers soon find themselves in a place where pragmatism and deduction take second place to imagination and the sort of landscape that bemuses the brain and the eye. Mountains stretch beyond the horizon; woods live up to their names and reputations, and the seemingly mundane task of wondering what-would-happen-if can have implications beyond the time lost in a daydream. There are mysterious cloaked men, sailors with wooden legs, monsters lurking in the shadows, and oracles and destiny galore.
And there are crabs, vicious but stupid crabs.
How Cabal reacts and deals with all of these decidedly not-rational aspects of the world he is travelling through is worth reading all on its own, but, as always, Howard combines the absolutely funny bits of Cabal’s reactions and commentary with an underlying thread of pathos and self-discovery. This is the story of a man who knows what it is like to live without a soul, to sacrifice in pursuit of a goal, to gamble his future and to make decisions that horrify those around him. But it also the story of a man looking for the right path, the quest for knowledge, the meaning of dreams and the worlds the mind can create, and the lengths a man might go to for love.
Howard’s Dreamlands will thrill fans of H.P. Lovecraft, but Cabal leaves a permanent mark on even the most fluid of landscapes, and Howard’s writing shines, sketching out a personality both fascinating and heartbreaking, on an adventure that reverberates from Dreamlands to the waking world, with a future that every reader must hope involves many more stories to come.
Beyond the wall of sleep lie the Dreamlands, a whole world formed by dreams, but not a dream itself. For countless millennia, it has been explored only by those with a certain detachment from the mundane realities of our own world, its strange seas navigated, and its vast mountains climbed by philosophers, and mystics, and poets.
Well, those halcyon days are over, beatniks.
Johannes Cabal is coming.
Johannes Cabal is back. Readers, rejoice.