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Literature / The Fall of the House of Cabal

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Destiny awaits.
The fifth and (for now) final installment in the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L. Howard.

Johannes Cabal might've finally found the secret of true resurrection - the Fountain of Youth, hidden in the lost empire of Presbyter Johannes. Of course, it's not quite so easy to get to it. Prester John is fully fictional, and the account of his life is a coded path through a series of trials, of the kind that cannot be passed alone. Cabal must put together a team.

And so, accompanied by his vampiric brother Horst, a preppy and murderous succubine Zarenyia and the detective-in-training Leonie Barrow, Cabal sets out into the Five Ways, on a journey that will take him everywhere from Dreamlands to Hell and even to the cesspit of horrors that is the city of London. But little does Cabal know, he's been lured there by a figure from his past, out for vengeance. After all, the Five Ways need five travellers...

The Fall of The House of Cabal has examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: Underplayed; while the fates of all major characters are known, the book ends as Cabal and Horst watch their family home smolder, wondering if Cabal's methods of securing his beloved's tank were enough to save her. While they intend to go and check when the place cools down, we don't get to see that.
  • And the Adventure Continues: After their misadventures in the Five Ways, Leonie and Zarenyia decide to go on a long trip around Europe rather than return home, the former to recover from her recent resurrection, and the latter because she'll probably be persona non grata in Hell for the next few millennia.
  • Anti-Hero: Discussed; when Cabal heads to confront Ninuka, he wonders whether the playwrights would consider him the hero or the villain of the piece, and decides that compared to classical heroes like Odysseus or Jason, he's practically a saint.
  • Attack Hello: When Cabal goes to the Barrows' house to make peace and ask Leonie to join the team, her father greets him by punching him in the face hard enough to send him sprawling to the ground.
  • Back from the Dead: As befitting for a novel about searching for a cure for death, this happens a few times.
    • Leonie is shot as she and Cabal attempt to board the Rubrum Imperatrix. When Cabal procures the five vials of the resurrective powder, he uses one on her to test whether it works. It works.
    • When Miss Smith, who's been dead before the story even started, drinks her powder, her dream self vanishes and so do her body parts Cabal had stashed in his house. The rest of the group assumes this happened.
    • Alisha, killed near the end of The Brothers Cabal, is resurrected with Cabal's vial to save her from a burning house.
  • Become a Real Boy: Discussed when Horst briefly turns back into human in the second Way. As he tells Leonie, he's wanted to turn human pretty much from the moment Johannes suggested the possibility - however, thinking back on it, he doesn't think he has any valuable qualities as a human, while as a vampire, he has a whole array of useful powers. In his own words, he's nothing as a human, and everything as a vampire, and maybe craving for blood every once in a while is worth it.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: General Fischer, the commander of Ninuka's forces, has the unenviable task of somehow keeping his men alive and accomplish the tasks set out for him despite the fact that Ninuka is quite crazy, has a reputation for killing people who disagree with her, and refuses to tell him the real reasons for anything he does.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The group completes the Five Ways and gains the Fountain of Youth; Horst gets to keep the best of both human and vampire qualities, Alisha is resurrected and Ninuka is dealt with. However, Cabal's house burns down, leaving Berenice's fate ambiguous. Even if her and her tank survived, four of the five vials have already been used up, and unless Cabal manages to get Zarenyia's vial from her before she uses it, he's all but back to square one with bringing his love back.
  • Breather Episode: The second Way is the only one where no-one is in danger, and serves mostly as a fun aside and Howard playing with the Great Detective tropes before the rollercoaster that are the last three Ways begins.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Frank Barrow reappers for the first time since book 1 when the Cabal brothers go to recruit Leonie to the team.
    • Ditto Rathuh Slabuth, who serves as the main opponent of the third Way and the new Satan after Lucifer decided he's quitting.
    • The indomitable Miss Smith, last seen in Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute, reappears when the Ways pull her into Cabal's test, and joins the group for the rest of their adventures.
    • Nyarlathotep shows up again and is revealed to be the architect of the Five Ways.
  • Big Bad: Orfelia Ninuka, as hinted in the epilogue of The Brothers Cabal, has deliberately planted the account of Presbyter Johannes so that Cabal would go into the Five Ways. She's also the fifth traveller of the Ways.
  • Call-Back: As a season finale of sorts, it's, of course, full of it.
    • Zarenyia's and Cabal's interactions are full of references to A Long Spoon, the story in which the succubine first appeared. In particular, they mention chaos being full of fish and Zarenyia still wears the angora sweater Cabal accidentally summoned for her in that story.
    • When Cabal and Ninuka meet again, she spends a moment to be angry with him that he didn't fall for her seduction back in Johannes Cabal the Detective, and takes a moment to reminesce about the happenings there.
    • Leonie reminesces of all the previous times Cabal came into her life.
    • When Cabal shoots Ninuka, he's taken through all the previous times he's almost died - which is to say, the finales of all the previous books - only this time, he dies every time.
  • Came Back Wrong: Discussed; Nyarlathotep implies that the Fountain of Youth might be The Monkey's Paw kind of deal - your heart's desire at a terrible cost. From what we see, this doesn't seem to be the case.
  • Central Theme: Theatre. Each of the Ways is basically a play of a different genre, and follows the tropes and conventions of one (such as the Great Detective having a comedic sidekick, or the hero and villain having a one-on-one confrontation). Cabal notices this, and ends up using it to predict - at least to an extent - what could happen next.
  • Cessation of Existence: Unique in all the multiverse, the Ivory Citadel — the first, failed creation of Lucifer after his Fall — utterly annihilates anyone who enters. Even devils are terrified of the place. Ratuth Slabuth suffers this fate when he tries to inflict it on Johannes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The two Katamenian bandits who spy on Cabal for Ninuka later burn down his house, preventing him from resurrecting Berenice once more.
  • Cool Airship: The Rubrum Imperatrix, Ninuka's flagship and pretty much a floating palace. Not only is it immense — in the fourth Way, she has it parked over Buckingham Palace and it coveres it all in shadow — it's also brand spanking new and bristling with guns firing Depleted Phlebotinum Shells.
  • Cue the Sun: The book ends with the two brothers Cabal watching the sun rise.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Misty, the ghost of a dead girl Horst meets when scouting the alternate London of the Fourth Way. Not only is she cute, she's overjoyed to finally find someone who sees her, and ends up aiding the team for as long as she can.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells:
    • The Rubrum Imperatrix is equipped with arcane munitions, as Ninuka anticipated having to fight vampires.
    • Leonie's shotgun comes with an ammunition that's filled with every supernatural-killing substance known to whatever made it, from holy water to Leng metal.
  • Dhampyr: At the end of the book, Horst drinks his resurrective vial to turn himself back into human and survive the sunrise. But because he grew to appreciate some of his powers, he gets to keep most of them (albeit diminished in strength) while regaining the ability to eat food and walk in sunlight. Cabal even calls him that.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The story is posed for a happy ending when Katamenians burn Cabal's house down, forcing him and Horst to use their vials without bringing Berenice back, meaning that for Cabal, the whole trip was pretty much for nothing.
  • Dream Apocalypse: When Cabal completes the Ways, they collapse, along with every creature they created, including the little ghost girl Misty, to Horst's despair.
  • Fear Is the Appropriate Response: When they're getting ready to board the Rubrum Imperatrix, Cabal gets a sudden moment of fear, and confesses so to Leonie. She reassures him that it's a perfectly human response, under the circumstances.
  • Guard Stations Terminally Unattended: A non-lethal version when Johannes confronts the Big Bad on her Cool Airship base, she calls for her soldiers to kill him and his friends on the ground, only to realize that Johannes' vampire brother has already infiltrated the ship and put them all in Forced Sleep.
  • Genre Savvy: Everyone immediately recognizes what kind of story they're in the moment they enter any Way. Particularly evident in the second one, as both Horst and Leonie lampshade and discuss particular tropes, with Horst even basing some of his deduction on what would be the most interesting in a crime novel.
  • Given Name Reveal: Cabal's best beloved finally gets a name on the book's final pages: Berenice.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Red Queen is power-hungry, trigger-happy and very eager to use her considerable supernatural powers in service of global conquest.
  • Great Detective: The second Way creates a scenario where Leonie is a master detective and Horst is her Watson-esque sidekick, and they have to solve an elaborate murder through deduction. The section is even called "Leonie Barrow, the Great Detective".
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: When Cabal and Leonie are sneaking aboard Rubrum Imperatrix, they notice there are no guards on the ramp. They correctly assume it's a trap.
  • Humanity Ensues: When Horst and Leonie enter the second Way, Horst turns back into a human (as otherwise the whole scenario the Ways created for Leonie would fall apart the moment he used mesmerism to interrogate suspects). He's elated to be able to eat human food and watch the sunset again, though he turns back into a vampire when they leave.
  • Hypocrite: When Cabal sees that Ninuka's warship is called Rubrum Imperatrix ("Red Empress"), he notes with disgust that the woman is just so full of herself. Leonie only snickers at that.
  • Invisible to Normals: Only supernatural beings can see and hear ghosts, although Cabal has a special pair of glasses that let him do the former.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: Cabal convinces Leonie and Frank Barrow to assist him by pointing out how easy it would be to solve murder cases if they could interrogate the victim. Leonie, who's seen how grotesque and unreliable such an interrogation is in the second book, is unmoved, as is her father.
  • Klingon Promotion: When in alternate London, Horst ends up fighting the leader of the local vampires for control over his group (hereby earning his title as the Lord of the Dead). He only intends to beath him down, but his Super Strength gets out of control at the last moment.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: Everyone ends up making tons of accidental double entrende when in Zarenyia's presence, which she delights in pointing out. Given how delighted she is, Miss Smith might be doing it accidentally.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: The book's structure. While the previous four consisted of a number of chapters entitled In Which a Trope Is Described, this book instead is divided into seven parts - one for preparation, five for each Way and one for the aftermath - with no chapter breaks within sections.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!:
    • As there are two entrances into the Ways, the initial team splits in two, with Cabal and Zarenyia going one way while Leonie and Horst take the other. In fact, the reason Cabal recruits Zarenyia and Leonie into the team is this - he wants to cover both sites, and he needs one brawn to his brain and one brain to Horst's brawn.
    • In the finale, the characters split and change partners like it's a ballroom dance. Initially, Horst goes off on his own with his army of vampires as a diversion, while the rest of the team attempts to enter the ship. Then Zarenyia and Miss Smith split off to distract the rest of the guards and rescue Horst, while Leonie and Cabal attempt to sneak aboard, then Miss Smith joins Leonie on the ground while Zarenyia helps Horst get to Cabal, then Zarenyia joins the other women while Horst and Cabal stay aboard, and finally the two split up on the ship.
  • Literal Metaphor: The title of the book turns out to be one. Rather than "House of Cabal" as in the Cabal family, the actual family house burns down in the aftermath.
  • Magic Wand: Miss Smith gets one in one of the Ways, and uses it to deadly effect for the rest of the book.
  • The Man Behind the Man: It's eventually revealed that the Five Ways were devised by Nyarlathotep, and he was also posing as Marechal's spirit, driving Ninuka on. Most of her plan was her own doing, though.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Played for Laughs when Zarenyia mentions Cabal using a wand during their trip to Hell. Knowing how much his brother despises any imprecise tools (and you can't get more imprecise than a tool for channelling raw chaos), Horst is shocked.
    • OOC behaviour is also how Horst and Leonie realize the former became human. First, Horst notices that despite looking at a pool of blood, he's not hungry for it. A moment later, he runs off in search of real food and Leonie (knowing that vampires cannot eat human stuff) wonders at his sudden change of tastes.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, as Johannes Cabal shares his name with the mythical Presbyter Johannes. The group ends up calling the latter by one of his monikers, Prester John, to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Out-Gambitted: As it turns out, Ninuka anticipated almost everything Johannes could do against her, and planned accordingly. The only think she didn't take into account was Zarenyia, since she didn't know about her, but Cabal getting aboard was her plan anyway.
  • Pocket Dimension: Each of the Ways is one - a micro-universe designed to test one of the travellers. Leonie theorizes they take shape the moment the travellers decide to try the ritual, and fall apart after they leave. The third Way is the exception, as Hell is constant in all dimensions.
  • Power Incontinence: When fighting Varney in London, Horst loses his grip on his vampiric strength at the last moment, and ends up accidentally snapping his enemy's neck.
  • Praetorian Guard: Ninuka has her Imperial Guard, which she uses mostly as a rapid strike force and an anti-supernatural unit, both of which they're very good at. Among the Mirkavians, they're almost mythical, and it's rumoured they literally give up their souls to the Red Queen (which Zarenyia later proves true when she tries to suck the soul out of one).
  • Red Baron:
    • Ninuka's underlings refer to her almost exclusively as "The Red Queen".
    • Each of the four heroes gets a title like this in their Way - Necropolitan for Cabal, Great Detective for Leonie, Princess of Hell for Zarenyia and Lord of the Dead for Horst. How they interact with those titles forms the basis for the Ways' scenarios.
  • Secret Test of Character: Each of the Ways tests one of the travellers in a specific way, which is hinted at in the section title.
    • For Cabal ("Necropolitan"), it's his familiarity with death and various inhabitants of graveyards.
    • For Leonie ("Great Detective"), it's whether she her desire to become an investigator has any substance.
    • For Zarenyia ("Princess of Hell"), it's the strength of her newfound friendship.
    • For Horst ("Lord of the Dead"), it's accepting his vampiric nature and being willing to get past his own hangups.
  • Sixth Ranger: About a third of the way in, Miss Smith is pulled in, and ends up joining the group. She's a little miffed she doesn't get her own Way, but ends up pulling her own weight anyway.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: When Leonie enters the third Way, she's given a massive shotgun, which she gets to keep - to her joy - for the rest of the book, wrecking all manner of human and supernatural creatures with it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The entire Second Way is an extended reference to Sherlock Holmes, with Leonie playing the Great Detective and Horst as The Watson.
    • The leader of London vampires is named Varney. Horst and Cabal have endless amounts of fun with that.
    • When discussing the Fountain of Youth, Nyarlathotep compares it to The Monkey's Paw. Played for Laughs when it turns out that Cabal has no idea what he's talking about, as the story doesn't exist in his universe (yet, at least).
  • Summation Gathering: At the end of her Way, Leonie gathers everyone involved in the murder mystery for this, even starting with "you might be wondering why I gathered you all here". Horst, an avid reader of mystery novels, is overjoyed.
  • Uncertain Doom:
    • The last anyone sees of Ninuka is the collapsing Ways encroaching closer to Rubrum Imperatrix. Everybody's quite certain they couldn't make it out, but there's no body left.
    • When he has only one vial of resurrective powder left, Cabal opts to use it on Alisha rather than Berenice, reasoning that the latter's tank, which he had spent years securing, is more likely to survive the fire than Alisha's barrel. However, the book ends before he can confirm he's correct.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Defied when Cabal and Zarenyia travel to the first Way. The narrator lists a whole bunch of ridiculous and ridiculously dangerous things that happened - including bandit packs, an exploding dam and a whole host of people out to kill them - then mentions that for the likes of those two, those were barely worth talking about, and promptly skips them.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Horsts' vampires, in particular the only one to get a name, Johns. Ninuka's arcane artillery ends up gunning most of them down, and it's implied the others are wiped out by the Imperial Guard.
  • What You Are in the Dark: What Zarenyia's test boils down to. Satan offers her a position of a Princess of Hell (basically one of the few demons second only to him), for the price of betraying Cabal. She ends up pretending to go along with it, then betraying Satan instread.
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: The heroes have to complete all five Ways because the fifth, where the Fountain of Youth resides, is only revealed when the other four are solved — and because the Big Bad is the fifth quester of the Ways.