Shan's latest fantasy marks something of a departure from his gory, demon-infested "Demonata" and "Cirque du Freak" series (both Little, Brown). Based loosely on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it takes readers on a hero's journey through a harsh world filled with ignorant, brutal people, competing pagan religions, and the occasional supernatural being. Like Huck, Jebel Rum undertakes a dangerous journey accompanied by a slave. And just like Finn, his long-held beliefs are challenged by his experience with the "lesser" man. He and his slave, Tel Hasani, also suffer at the hands of con men posing as royalty. But this story is merely a pale shadow of Twain's classic. Jebel Rum sets out not to free his slave but to sacrifice him at the altar of one of his gods in exchange for invincibility. His goal is to compete for the right to replace his father as his city's executioner. Shan's characterizations and dialogue are weak at best, and Jebel's conversion is predictable and artless. The overriding message is heavy-handed and unsatisfying. Despite all of that, readers who cut their teeth on "Cirque du Freak" and moved on to the "Demonata" will most likely gobble up this lengthier, slightly more cerebral novel. There is just enough brutality to keep the pages turning.