Inspired by Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Darren Shan‘s The Thin Executioner takes you on a journey that is part mythological quest and part coming of age story.
When young Jebel Rum feels humiliated by his father, the revered executioner of Wadi, he impulsively decides to go on a quest to the fire god, Sabbah Eid, to petition for invincibility and take over the position of town executioner.
The problem is, he needs to take with him someone to sacrifice to the the god. A friend of the family helps him find a slave to take with him and they set off on an almost year-long trek through strange lands. Along the way they are conned, sold into slavery and trapped by a self-mutilating religious cult.
At the end of the journey, Jebel no longer thinks of his slave as a slave, but a valued friend. Can he sacrifice him to the violent and demanding god?
What Worked for Me
It’s been awhile since I read Huckleberry Finn, but I do remember enjoying it. So I looked forward to seeing how Shan was going to adapt the basic tale for his world. I wasn’t disappointed. As the tale wove on, I could see the parallels from what I remember of Twain’s novel.
But Shan made this story his own. The world of Makhras is filled with wonder, gods, magical beings, and real-world human-made horrors. Jebel Rum starts out as a petulant child, but by the end of the novel he is a compassionate man. This is in part due to the hardships he survived, but also because the dedicated companionship provided by Tel Hesani, the slave he brought to sacrifice.
Why would a slave put up with an arrogant brat through thick and thin knowing he would be sacrificed at the end? To save his family. Tel Hesani is a grounded man with strong faith in his one god. And it is his integrity that ultimately builds the bond between the two questers.
The story touches on deep and important issues such as religious doctrine and belief, slavery and capital punishment. The Thin Executioner looks into the dark heart of humankind, pulls out the cruelty and violence, looks at it, examines it and still finds hope.
Given the mix of what seems ordinary, mixed in with magic and magic realism, there were times that The Thin Executioner reminded me Jason’s quest with the Argonauts or The Odyssey. Shan has tapped into mythological archetypes with this novel.
What Didn’t Work for Me
Sometimes Jebel was a bit too bratty and his self-rightous arrogance lasted a little longer than I would have thought. However, that didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the novel.
Sometimes the transitions or teasers felt forced. For example, at the end of one chapter Shan teased the next chapter this way: “But if either had known the fate awaiting them in Jedir, they would have pushed straight on west and taken there chances with a dozen deadly fevers.” I could have lived without Shan telling me that and just moving on to showing me.
The Thin Executioner is an enjoyable read. It is a simple story of an epic quest. If you enjoyed the mythological journeys of Jason and Odysseus, then I think you’ll enjoy this novel, as well.
SCORE: 4 Palm Trees out of 5 Possible
NOTE: Although I received this book free to review, that did not affect my opinion of the book. Read past reviews of books Iâ€™ve received for free and youâ€™ll know I donâ€™t hold my punches.