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When his father publicly shames him, Jebel Rum takes the brand of quester and seeks the blessing of the fire god to obtain strength and invincibility. Guided by his sacrificial slave, Tel Hasani, Jebel encounters a fanatical cult, grave robbers and secretive regimes along the way. When he finally encounters the god, Jebel must decide if his quest goal has changed in the course of his journey. Shan works to blend action with social education and occasionally misses both. Readers will find less gore than in previous novels--though the corporeal mortification scenes are intense and disturbing--which tamps down the former, and the exploration of justice, fairness, morality and religion are at times oversimplified. Hasani's annoyance with his spoiled charge is perfectly fitting, though, and Jebel's character development arcs nicely. Readers familiar with Huckleberry Finn may recognize parallels between Hasani and Jebel and Jim and Huck, a deliberate echo that is perhaps this book's greatest success. Heads roll at the start, but by the end, Shan reaches for the heartstrings. (Fantasy/horror. 10-14)
The executioner swung his axe—thwack!—and another head went rolling into the dust. There was a loud cheer. Rashed Rum was the greatest executioner Wadi had ever seen, and he always drew a large crowd, even after thirty years.
Five executions were scheduled for that morning. Rashed had just finished off the third and was cleaning his blade. In the crowd his youngest son, Jebel, was more interested in the high maid, Debbat Alg, than his father.
To Jebel, Debbat Alg was the most beautiful girl in Wadi. She was the same height as him, slim and curvy, with long legs, even longer hair, dazzling brown eyes, and teeth so white they might have been carved from shards of the moon. Her skin was a delicious dark brown color. She always wore a long dress, usually with a slit down the left to show off her legs. Her blouses were normally cropped and close-fitting, revealing much of her smooth stomach.
Rashed Rum tested his blade, then stepped forward. He nodded at the guards, and they led the fourth criminal—a female slave who’d struck her mistress—to the platform at the center of the square. Jebel slid up next to Debbat and her servant, Bastina.
“I bet she’ll need two blows,” he said.
Debbat shot him an icy glance. “Betting against your father?” she sniffed.
“No,” Jebel said. “But I think she’ll try to wriggle free. Slaves have no honor. They always squirm.”
“Not this one,” Debbat said. “She has spirit. But if you want to risk a bet…”
“I do,” Jebel grinned.
“What stakes?” Debbat asked.
“A kiss?” It was out of Jebel’s mouth before he knew he’d said it.
Debbat laughed. “I could have you whipped for suggesting that.”
“You’re just afraid you’d lose,” Jebel retorted.
Debbat’s eyes sparkled at the thought of having Jebel punished. But then she caught sight of J’An, Jebel’s eldest brother, handing his father a drink. Debbat would have welcomed a kiss from J’An, and he knew it, but so far he’d shown no interest in her. Perhaps he thought he had no competition, that he could claim her in his own sweet time. It might be good to give him a little scare.
“Very well,” Debbat said, startling both Jebel and Bastina. “A kiss if you win. If you lose, you have to kiss Bastina.”
“Mistress!” Bastina objected.
“Be quiet, Bas!” snapped Debbat.
Bastina pouted, but she couldn’t argue. She wasn’t a slave, but she had pledged herself to serve the high family, so she had to obey Debbat’s commands.
“Bet accepted,” Jebel said happily. Bastina had a sour, pinched face, and her skin wasn’t anywhere near as dark as Debbat’s—her mother had come from a line of slaves from another country—but even if he lost and had to kiss her, it would be better than a whipping.
On the platform the female slave was motionless, her neck resting snugly in the curve of the executioner’s block, hands tied behind her back. Her blouse and dress had been removed. She would leave this world as vulnerable as when she had entered it, as did everyone when they were executed. When the wise and merciless judges of the nation of Abu Aineh found you guilty of a crime, you were stripped of everything that had once defined who you were—your wealth, your clothing, your dignity, and finally your head.
Rashed Rum drank deeply. Refreshed, he wiped his hands on his knee-length bloodstained tunic, took hold of his long-handled axe, stepped up to the block, and laid the blade on the slave’s neck to mark his spot. His eyes narrowed and he breathed softly. Then he drew the axe back and swept it around and down, cutting clean through the woman’s neck.
The slave’s head hit the base of the platform and bounced off into the crowd. The children nearest the front yelled with excitement and fought for the head, then fled with it, kicking it down the street. The heads of um Wadi or Um Aineh were treated with respect and buried along with their bodies, but slaves were worthless. Their bones were fed to dogs.
Debbat faced Jebel Rum and smiled smugly.
Jebel shrugged. “She must have frozen with fear.”
“I hope you don’t freeze when you kiss Bas,” Debbat laughed.
Bastina was crying. It wasn’t because she had to kiss Jebel—he wasn’t that ugly. She always cried at executions. She had a soft heart, and her mother had told her many stories when she was growing up, of their ancestors and how they had suffered. Bastina couldn’t think of these people as criminals who had no right to life anymore. She identified with them and always wondered about their families, how their husbands or wives might feel, how their children would survive without them.
“Come on, then,” Jebel said, taking hold of the weeping girl’s jaw and tilting her head back. He wiped away the worst of her tears, then quickly kissed her. She was still crying when he released her and he made a face. “I’ve never seen anyone else cry when a person’s executed.”
“It’s horrible,” Bastina moaned. “So brutal…”
“She was fairly judged,” said Jebel. “She broke the law, so she can’t complain.”
Bastina shook her head but said nothing more. She knew that the woman had committed a crime, that a judge had heard the case against her and found her guilty. A slave had no automatic right to a hearing—her mistress could have killed her on the spot—but she had been afforded the ear of the courts and had been judged the same as a free Um Aineh. By all of their standards, it was legal and fair. Yet still Bastina shuddered when she thought about how the woman had died.
“Why aren’t you muscular like your brothers?” Debbat asked out of the blue, squeezing Jebel’s bony arm. “You’re as thin as an Um Kheshabah.”
“I’m a late developer,” Jebel snapped, tearing his arm free and flushing angrily. “J’Al was the same when he was my age, and J’An wasn’t much bigger.”
“Nonsense,” Debbat snorted. “I remember what they looked like. You’ll never be strong like them.”
Jebel bristled, but the high maid had spoken truly. He was the runt of the Rum litter. His mother had died giving birth to him, which boded well for his future. Rashed Rum thought he had a tiny monster on his hands, one who would grow up to be a fierce warrior. But Jebel never lived up to his early promise. He’d always been shorter and skinnier than other boys his age.
“Jebel doesn’t need to be big,” Bastina said, sticking up for her friend—her mother had been his nurse, so they had grown up together. “He’s clever. He’s going to be a teacher or a judge.”
“Shut up!” Jebel barked furiously. Abu Aineh was a nation where warriors were prized above all others. Very few boys dreamt of growing up to be a teacher.
“You’d be a good judge,” Bastina said. “You wouldn’t be cruel.”
“Judges aren’t cruel,” said Debbat, rolling her eyes. “They simply punish the guilty. We’d be no better than the Um Safafaha without them.”
“That’s right,” Jebel said. “Not that I’m going to become one,” he added with a dark glare at Bastina. “I’m going to be a warrior. I’ll fight for the high lord.”
“You? One of my father’s guards?” Debbat frowned. “You’re too thin. Only the strongest um Wadi serve the high lord.”
“You don’t know anything about it,” Jebel huffed. “You’re just a girl. You—”
Rashed Rum stepped forward, and Jebel fell silent along with the rest of the crowd. The day’s final criminal was led to the platform, an elderly man who had stolen food from a stall. He was an um Wadi, but he behaved like a slave, weeping and begging for mercy. He made Jebel feel ashamed. People booed, but Rashed Rum’s expression didn’t flicker. They were all the same to him, the brave and the cowardly, the high and the low, the just and the wicked. It wasn’t an executioner’s place to stand in judgment, just to cut off heads.
The elderly man’s feet were tied together, but he still tried to jerk free of the executioner’s block. In the end, J’An and J’Al had to hold him in place while their father took aim and cut off his head.
J’An would come of age in a year and join one of Wadi’s regiments. When J’An left, their father would need a new assistant to help J’Al. The position should be offered to Jebel, but he doubted it would be. He was thin, so people thought he was weak. He hoped his father would give him a chance to prove himself, but he was prepared for disappointment.
Debbat turned to leave, and so did the other people in the square. But they all stopped short when Rashed Rum called out, “Your ears for a moment, please.”
An excited murmur ran through the crowd—this was the first time in thirty years that Rashed Rum had spoken after an execution. He took off his black hooded mask and toyed with it shyly. Although he was a legendary executioner, he wasn’t used to speaking in public. He coughed, then laughed. “I had the words clear in my head this morning, but now I’ve forgotten them!”
People chuckled, a couple clapped, then there was silence again. Rashed Rum continued. “I’ve been executioner for thirty years, and I reckon I’ve got maybe another ten in me if I stay on.”
“Fifteen!” someone yelled.
The burly beheader smiled. “Maybe. But I don’t want to push myself. A man should know when it is time to step aside.”
There was a collective gasp. Jebel couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There had been no talk of this at home, at least not in his presence.
“I’ve always hoped that one of my sons might follow in my footsteps,” Rashed Rum went on. “J’An and J’Al are fine boys, two of the best in Wadi, and either would make a fine executioner.”
As people nodded, Jebel felt like he was about to be sick. He knew he was the frail one in the family, not as worthy as his brothers, but to be snubbed by their father in public was a shame beyond that of a thousand whippings. He sneaked a quick look at Debbat Alg. She was fully focused on Rashed Rum, but he knew she would recall this later and mock him. All of his friends would.
“J’An will be a man in a year,” Rashed Rum said, “and J’Al two years after that. If I carry on, they won’t be able to fight for the chance to take my place.” Only teenage boys could compete for the post of executioner. “I asked the high lord for his blessing last night, and he granted it. So I’m serving a year’s notice. On this day in twelve months, I’ll swing my axe for the final time. The winner of the mukhayret will then take my place as Wadi’s executioner.”
That was the end of Rashed Rum’s speech. He withdrew, leaving the crowd to feverishly debate the announcement. Runners were swiftly dispatched to spread the news. Everyone in Wadi would know of it by sunset.
The post of executioner was prized above all others. The god of iron, Aiehn Asad, had personally chosen the first-ever executioner of Wadi hundreds of years ago, and every official beheader since then had stood second only to the high lord in the city, viewed by the masses as an ambassador of the gods. An executioner was guaranteed a place by his god’s side in the afterlife, and as long as he didn’t break any laws, nobody could replace him until he chose to step aside or died.
J’An and J’Al knew all of this, yet they remained on the platform, mopping up blood, acting as if this was an ordinary day. In a year the pair would stand against each other in the fierce tournament of the mukhayret and fight as rivals with the rest of the would-be executioners. If one of them triumphed, his life would be changed forever, and almost unlimited power would be his for the taking. But until then they were determined to carry on as normal, as their father had taught them.
Near the front of the crowd, Debbat Alg gazed at J’An and J’Al with calculating eyes. On the day of the mukhayret, the winner could choose any maid in Wadi to be his wife. More often than not, the new executioner selected a maid from the high family, to confirm his approval of the high lord, so it was likely that one of the brothers would choose her. She was trying to decide which she preferred the look of so that she could pick one to cheer for. J’An had a long, wide nose and thick lips that made many a maid’s knees tremble. J’Al was sleeker, his hair cut tight to complement the shape of his head, with narrow but piercing eyes. The inside of J’An’s right ear had been intricately tattooed, while J’Al wore a studded piece of wood through the flesh above his left eye. Both brothers were handsome and up to date with the latest fashions. It was going to be difficult to choose.
Beside Debbat, Bastina also stared at J’An and J’Al, but sadly. She was thinking of all the heads the new executioner would lop off, all the lives he’d take. The Rum brothers had been kind to her over the years. She didn’t like to think of one of them with all that blood on his hands.
And beside Bastina, Jebel stared too. But he wasn’t thinking of his brothers, the mukhayret tournament, or even Debbat Alg. He only had thoughts for his father’s words, the horrible way he had been overlooked, and the dark cloud under which he must now live out the rest of his miserable, shameful years.
Excerpted from The Thin Executioner by Shan, Darren Copyright © 2010 by Shan, Darren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
This novel is also the story of an epic quest. What is your favorite, classic epic quest story?
Lord of the Rings. It’s the McDaddy of quests!!!
Other than the fact that this is a stand alone, in what ways is The Thin Executioner a departure from your other young adult novels?
It’s more fantastical, and it’s written in the third person, so it’s not quite as fast and energetic as most of my books. It’s a book to lose yourself in rather than race along at top speed through.
Jebel and Tel Hesani go on a complex journey and meet a variety of different types of people. How did you map out and keep track of this complex world?
I came up with a variety of countries and races, then wrote notes about each, summarizing their history and religious and political beliefs. I didn’t use most of the information in the book, but it was important that I have it clear in my own head.
Jebel and Tel Hesani face religious differences. What about this type of conflict interested you and made you want to incorporate it into the novel?
We live in a time of fear. I think that many of us are wary of people of different beliefs, worried that they might be plotting against us. The thing is, we don’t need to be. I’ve travelled all over the world and found people to be much the same everywhere I’ve gone, regardless of their religion or race. The vast majority of people are decent, honest, helpful individuals. We need to talk more with one another and be accepting of those who see the world differently. There’s room in this world for any number of religions, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all be able to co-exist peacefully.
Why did you choose to make Jebel an aspiring executioner and to have the Wadi value executioners?
I wanted to show that there’s hope for even the most vicious and bloodthirsty individuals. Nobody needs to be defined by the dictates of their parents or society. We all have the freedom to make personal choices, and we should exercise that right. We shouldn’t blindly follow our leaders. We need to question and discuss matters of great spiritual and political significance, and follow the urgings of our heart.
Jebel’s intentions for Tel Hesani are very gruesome at the beginning of the novel. How did you keep him relatable and make readers want to follow his story?
I tried to show that he was a product of his society, that he was the way he was because he had been told since birth that he must live and think this way. I think most children have experienced that, so I think they were ready to give Jebel a chance, since they could identify with where he was coming from.
What made you interested in exploring the problem of slavery and the relationship of slave to master?
I figured that people who kept slaves must have total contempt for them as people. If someone in that position could break through their training and find the humanity and dignity within a slave, they could find the humanity in anyone. Basically I wanted to say to readers that we should never consider ourselves superior, that we should treat all people with respect and understanding, that every person alive is deserving of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy.
Posted July 19, 2011
This is an unbelievably amazing novel! Jebel Rum begins a year long journey that changes his life and his essential character. On the journey Jebel loses his bigotry, religious intolerance and his cultural beliefs through brutal trials and experiences. His eyes are opened and his old self stripped away. I was blown away by this book and highly recommend it to everyone!
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Posted September 21, 2010
The book The Thin Executioner is not for the fainthearted. In it, we follow the journey of a young man named Jebel Rum. Jebel lives in a world shockingly different from our own, in a country where compassion and kindness are shameful signs of weakness. Where over all things, cruelty and bloodshed is honored. Where only the ruling Lord of the city is higher in rank than the Executioner.
Jebel's father has been the Executioner for many years and he is about to retire. Jebel has always been thin and lanky, not like his well-muscled brothers, and knows that he won't have any chance of winning his father's post as he is. Vying for his father's station, he starts out on a quest to travel to the sacred mountain of the fire god, where he will offer a human sacrifice and hope he is granted invincibility.
This story is brutal and shocking in the way it presents human suffering. It is an unrestricted, abrasive, gruesome telling of an alien society and perspective. It was captivating, in a dark way. There is no goodhearted protagonist, no evil villain to fight against, and no understanding people to help along the way. It is harsh wakeup call from all the fluffy feel-good books with happy endings.
I wasn't sure how I felt about this book until I finished it. I was shell-shocked and almost offended at how brutally straightforward this book was. Now, having had time to think about it, I decided that I like how the author was unwilling to dilute the horrors of this book. Even so, I would never recommend this book to anyone younger than 15 years old.
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Posted October 21, 2010
This is amazing but if you'rre under 14 don't read it,for example in one scene an executiner who was malpracticed tried to cut a guys head off and missed the neck and hit his head but he was still alive he was screaming he kept hitting the guys nck but he wouldn't die so when itwas hanging by a thread he ripped it off! They spared no details either but I loved it.
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Posted September 26, 2010
Among the Um Aineh, being the son of the executioner is almost as good as being the son of the king. In a world of warriors where strength and honor are valued above all, even the youngest son of the executioner, Jebel Rum, can't get the respect he thinks he deserves with a tiny frame. He sets off on a quest to save his honor, a quest that will require him to travel the length of Makhras with a slave by his side, a slave he must sacrifice to Sabbah Eid. In return he'll be granted invincibility that will allow him to beat any man in competition or combat and gain the confidence and respect of his father and his people.
The society in which Jebel has been raised is exceedingly violent. The executioner is an exalted member of society in the way that movie stars are exalted in ours. They are not only men who mete out "justice," but also the providers of entertainment. Anyone convicted of any crime is executed; there are no jails and little regard for human life. Slaves aren't even considered human. Slaves live in their own section of the city where the living conditions are very degraded, can be beaten without recourse, and can be sentenced to death at the wish of their owner for any reason or none at all. Tel Hesani volunteers to accompany Jebel on his quest, knowing he will be executed at the end of it, to free his wife and children from this existence.
Once Jebel and Tel Hesani are on the road, Jebel depends on Tel Hesani's knowledge of the world and other people in it to survive, but still treats him with disdain. Because Jebel is eager to spend time with people like himself, meaning not slaves like Tel Hesani, they end up in quite a few compromising situations. The trials and tribulations add up quickly, much more quickly than the change of heart I was expecting from Jebel. Tel Hesani saves him time and time again, and yet he's still valued as slightly more than a piece of dirt by Jebel. Jebel's attitude is a lot to take. It isn't until Jebel and Tel Hesani are separated and Jebel gets to experience the life of a slave for himself that his ideas about slavery, human life, and Tel Hesani begin to change. When they're finally reunited, they continue on the quest, but Jebel (finally) seriously doubts whether he'll be able to kill Tel Hesani in the name of a god he's not sure is real in exchange for supernatural powers that may or may not exist.
The Thin Executioner is a long book, and I think that a lot of the obstacles Jebel and Tel Hesani meet on their way to Sabbah Eid could have been cut out without risking important plot points or character development. Still, it can be a gripping story. I had a hard time being in Jebel's head for so much of the book when he was such a self-centered jerk, but the payout is worth it in the end.
If LibraryThing is to be believed, Shan dedicated this book to the country of Jordan "which inspired much of this book's setting and plot, and whose landmarks provided the names of all the characters (with three exceptions) and places" (my ARC doesn't have the dedications page). Jebel also describes his crush as "a beautiful dark brown color" (2).* Based on this and a vague memory of a description of Jebel himself, I'm thinking Jebel and the rest of the Um Aineh aare middle eastern, making this a fantasy book featuring POC! A rare and wonderful thing!
Book source: ARC provided by publisher via yalsa-bk.
* All quotes and page numbers are taken from an ARC and
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Posted March 7, 2013
Posted August 19, 2011
I have read the Demonata series and the Cirque series and they were both fantastic. I love how they all tied together so well, and the gruesome Macabre that makes them all so famous. I was unsure about the book before I read it because it was not a series, which seems to be Shan's strong suit. I will admit, I was proven wrong. Even though this is definitely one of his longer books, he made it work. Jebel is a character that many people can empathize with.
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Posted January 6, 2011
Regardless of his size, Jebel Rum has always wanted to be the successor of his father as the executioner for his tribe, a profession that is somewhat honored and entertaining. It doesn't help when you have two older brothers who would be better fitted for the job. To make things worse, Jebel's dreams are quickly crushed when his own father does not see him as a contender. What is Jebel's solution to this problem? Find the god who will give him the power of invincibility, which will ultimately help him win the tournament against his brothers that will make him the executioner. Along with Jebel on his travels is the slave who decided to go with him, Tel Hesani, who must be sacrificed to the god in order to obtain a better life for his family. THE THIN EXECUTIONER is full of weird but somewhat relatable teen angst, a journey that not only will prove difficult for Jebel but also will allow him to grow stronger. It also includes an accomplice who becomes more than what people at that time would think of as an object. Jebel will soon discover that what lays outside his tribe is something worth experiencing. Away from the vampires and demons, Darren Shan crafts a unique and compelling story that will take readers into a whole new world they would never have imagined. Jebel is one of those characters that gives a bad impression in the beginning. Of course, his non-ethical, guiltless personality is not his fault, as such traits are actually embedded in the minds of those in his tribe. However, Jebel's growth throughout the novel to the very end allows readers to be as comfortable with him as they are with Tel Hesani, the more likeable character who most readers will automatically respect. Both characters will endure a difficult and at times deadly journey, and in the end Jebel, Tel Hesani, and even the reader will be rewarded with a conclusion that is unusual but all the more satisfying.
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Posted April 20, 2014
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Posted February 1, 2013
just finished this amazing book. and holy shiz did this book leave me with a powerful moral. anyways, this book is absolutely amazing and is packed with suspense. i give this book a billion out of 10 and is a sgood as the whole demonata series which is hard to beat. the domnata series is also one of darren's series and is no exception. you have to read this book because it is life changing :)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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Posted December 28, 2012
I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!! Darren Shan is by far one of my all time favorite authors. This book was gripping. I literally could not put it down. The main character Jebel goes onan incredible journey that, in the end changes his out look on his life and what he was brought up to think. I loved it and i have recommended it to manyof my friends and family. A must read for sure.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2012
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Posted January 28, 2012
This book is a really great buy! Darren Shan is a masterful writer, and gore should be his middle name. Though this book is not at all in the violence level of The Demonata, but is still great. At first the young boy Jebel was an annoying, conceded, close- minded and arrogant child, but through his suffering gains wisdom and widens his mind's perception. I would reccomend this book to any fans of Shan's work.
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Posted January 12, 2012
FREAKIN AWESOME BOOK. Once I started it I couldn't manage to put it down. Yeah some of the words and names were odd but you get used to it. Good read, well worth the time spent. I'd recommend this book to anyone who can handle several gory descriptions.
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