So much is quotable here, so much extreme deliciousness.
The Brothers Cabal are back together, each having done a bit of personal growth. One of the rewarding arcs of the series is how Johannes has thawed–just a little, mind you–in acknowledging brotherly affection, even displaying concern for boon companions.
“Here, Cabal paused. Yes, he had done good. By accident, as a by-product, by serendipity. But yes, he had done good. He just didn’t see why people kept wanting to rub his nose in it.”
Howard doesn’t spend much time rehashing past plots, noting that “In an ideal world, the reader would have the common courtesy to have read all the previous novels in this series and retained sufficient of the plot that a pithy summation would be unnecessary. As has been noted by observers more perspicacious than the author, however, it is far from an ideal world and a distinct proportion of those reading these words will have had more pressing matters than to avail themselves of the four novels preceding this one. To these people, the author says, ‘Yes, four. You jumped in at Book Five. What are you like?'” This is a book that benefits from the gestalt of the series, as characters and settings from prior books make often critical reappearances here. That said, one reviewer noted that even though she had not read other books in the series, she found this quite understandable. Still, one of the delights that a series brings is the meta-story, the development of characters and relationships.
Characters were interesting, particularly the delightful spider-devil Madam Zarenyia. Really–for the second time this year, I’m enjoying spiders–her personality sparkled through the pages and her joie de vivre had me laughing out loud. Thankfully, Howard’s footnote sent me searching back to the story in which she first appeared, “The Long Spoon,” which was equally entertaining.
“‘I do so hate all this shilly-shallying. May I get all leggy and start killing people now?’
‘You may not, madam, but that time is drawing close.’
She nodded sagely. ‘Deferred gratification. I’ve heard about that. So this is what it feels like. Hmmmm.’ She considered this new sensation. ‘It’s slightly irritating.'”
Horst perhaps suffers more in this book as a foil to Johannes, a straight-man for the others’ cleverness, and a stand-in for the reader. I missed his daring and active personality in this book, although he does get his moment to shine in the last section.
“‘No?” Horst’s expression was of somebody trying to play a game wherein the other player keeps ‘remembering’ rules that tip things in his favor.”
I generally love Howard’s writing style, a take perhaps on the ornate styles of Victorian tales (my historical fiction experience is sketchy). It’s structurally and conceptually complex, although with enough sarcasm, asides and social commentary to make it amusing, even more so when it switches from verbosity to bluntness.
“As he did so, the battle suddenly attenuated, its combatants thinning out like magic lantern projections when the curtain is drawn back and daylight re-enters the room. Now they looked like ghosts, and now they looked like suggestive shapes in the evening mist rising from the damp land, and now they were gone altogether.
Cabal cared not a jot. His main concern was how on earth he was supposed to entertain himself for a full day in a place as devoid of interest as Perkis Moor. After all, it was only haunted, and the ghosts were boring.”
The plot centers on Johannes gathering companions and embarking on a journey to five different locations to open the door to eternal life. Not for himself, mind you. The different locations are a way to delightfully revisit settings of the prior books and try out different styles. It plays to Howard’s strengths as a short story writer. The culmination of the quest is altogether satisfying, an ending I couldn’t really have predicted, though a door was left somewhat ajar so what a tale may be continued. Personally, when I heard the series was ending, I promptly went to Howard’s page to discover more, and from there went and joined a Patreon for his works. Such delightful writing should be rewarded.