By Alex Ringgold
Darren Shan is an author of three book series and the fact that I happen to pick up one of his books, that is stand-alone, must be a sign. The Thin Executioner started off strong and, though I dislike series books, the only thing I could ask of this book is to not end.
But, that is impossible, so onward to the review.
The Thin Executioner is about a boy named Jebel, who is thin, but wants to precede his father, a famous executioner, by seeking out the Fire God and gaining invincibility. It will be a perilous quest there and he must have a human sacrifice for the god to complete it, so he meets a slave, Tel Hesani, and negotiate Hesani’s life toward the sacrifice for his family’s freedom. Upon agreeing the two set off for the god on the trip (in total being a year) Jebel and Tel Hesani experience the varied, humorous, beautiful, terrible, dark, enlightening world together until, of course, Jebel can come back and become the new executioner.
Phew. So, what drew me to this book was the cover. After opening it, I saw it also had fairly short chapters; so the book was simple yet interesting with its appearance, characters, and plot. However, as I kept reading I noticed that large portions of the day seem to have disappeared.
That’s when I knew: I was reading a good book.
Jebel is rude and intolerable, not like the previously mentioned character Samara, but, like, just a plain asshole. On the other hand, the society he grew up in is to blame; any crime committed in Jebel’s hometown comes with the penalty of death by beheading. Harsh. The villagers are also very pompous and think themselves higher than everyone else. Especially slaves. Leading to Jebel’s hostile remarks and unfriendly attitude toward Tel Hesani.
As the story progresses, however, we see that Tel Hesani is, not only the one person keeping Jebel from an untimely demise, but also an understanding person who in the end changes Jebel for the better.
As the two travel, they meet all types of people and villages, with different religions and beliefs. From peaceful mountain climbers that sacrifice animals to mountain entities to cannibals that believe carving off flesh will free you of your sins.
I am not entirely sure how Shan’s other works read out, but The Thin Executioner is not shy when it comes to the macabre scenes. There are many parts where someone is getting decapitated, killed, mauled, tortured, and or put through a pain so vividly excruciating that you feel it too.
The characters are believable and you may find yourself rooting for them to get through the challenging obstacles they face; there is no black and white. You can’t put any character to the left or to the right in terms of likability, personality, and believability.
Jebel may be the master and Tel Hesani may be the slave, but the two always find some way to express who they really are. Jebel may act tough, and in charge, but sometimes he shows his sensitive side; a side where he feels pressured by his father and the society he grew up in. Tel Hesani is aware that he is in a unfortunate circumstance (stuck with a foul mouth brat), but he shows understanding that Jebel is just a boy and it will take time and patience for him to see the world for what it is. However, Tel Hesani will sometimes lose patience and may become silent or snap until he can gain composure.
I would say the only thing that keeps this book from being tattooed all over my body, would be that it is too predictable in terms of plot and character development. I admit that some things that the two travelers faced was out of the norm and totally surprising, but, I could see exactly how it would end the minute I started reading it (which may irk some readers).
In the end, though, I loved every character that show up in this story, I liked the expected and almost clique ending, and I like how satisfied I was after reading this book.
The Thin Executioner is a very good read for young adults and even teaches readers to come to accept those that are different, which is a very important lesson for young adults these days.