Departing from his fantasy and horror roots, Darren Shan returns with The Thin Executioner. Set in a medeival Qurac, the book is notionally inspired by The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.
The story follows Jebel Rum, the youngest, small and least favoured child of the executioner of the city of Wadi, who holds a position in society second only to the Um Wadi's leader. His father announces he will be stepping down as executioner in a year's time and that his two oldest sons will be competing in the competition to claim the title. By omitting Jebel from his announcement, he publicly disgraces him and, in a rash moment, Jebel decides to undertake a quest that hasn't been completed in living memory: to journey to the sacred mountain of Tubaygat and petition the fire god Sabbah Eid to give him strength and invincibility so he can enter the competition, beat his brothers, claim the hand of the Um Wadi princess and become the thin executioner.
As part of the requirements of the quest, he enlists the aid of the slave, Tel Hesani, who agrees to accompany Jebel and ultimately be sacrificed to Sabbah Eid in exchange for Jebel having his family freed from slavery upon his return. Together, the two set off on foot across the ancient land of Makhras to reach Tubaygat and summon Sabbah Eid. Along the way, they run into the many, diverse tribes of Makhras, including the cannibalistic Um Biyara and their depraved leader Qasr Bint, as well as the enigmatic Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair.
This book provides examples of:
* Beautiful All Along: In a rare example not featuring any change of appearance. After becoming the executioner, Jebel has his choice of any virgin in Wadi and chooses "the most beautiful girl in Wadi"; not the stunning but shallow Wadi princess Debbat but her dowdy servant girl, Bas.
* Character Development: Jebel starts out as arrogant and abusive towards Tel Hesani, regularly threatening to beat him to death. Ultimately, though, when the moment comes, Jebel chooses not to sacrifice Tel to Sabbah Eid, even though Tel is mortally wounded.
* Chess With Death: A variation. When Jebel is picked up by the Um Wadi god of death, he convinces said god to let him return to life in exchange for a friendly conversation when next they meet.
* Complete Monster: All three villains certainly qualify. Qasr Bint is a cannibalistic, sadistic religious fanatic who believes he alone is the most pure person in the world and that everyone else must mutilate themselves until they die to earn the favour of the gods, and pursues his quest of conversion with a perverse lust and religious fervour that would put Frollo to shame. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are greedy, cruel, amoral conmen and murderers who winter by graverobbing and approach all their villainy in a casual, affable tone.
* Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming: After journeying across the entire land of Makhras, being enslaved multiple times, killing three sadistic villains, fighting scores of insane cannibals and getting captured by the god of death, Jebel refuses to sacrifice Tel Hesani to Sabbah Eid, even though Tel is mortally wounded anyway and Sabbah Eid is threatening him with death by fire. Even with the wrath of the fire-god looming, Jebel refuses to kill the man who has become the father his father never was for his own selfish reasons, choosing to let him die with dignity, not slaughtered like a pig.
* Dark Messiah: Qasr Bint is a particularly gruesome example.
* Eldritch Abomination: The rock demons.
* God In Human Form: Sabbah Eid Subverted. The human form is actually her true form.
* Improbable Weapon User: Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair wield what essentially amounts to a simple magic trick to lethal effect in a bar fight.
* Invincible Hero: Jebel is on a quest to become one. He eventually gets the powers and becomes the executioner but he uses his invincibility and an obscure Wadi law to hold the judicial system to ransom in order to force them to make reforms.
* Shallow Love Interest: Debbat Alg, the princess Jebel wants to take to wife when he become executioner.
* Squick: The Um Biyara's religious beliefs involve picking away at their flesh until they die of infection or sheer fucking disintegration. And true to character, Darren Shan describes it in such a cold, matter-of-fact way, you can't help but feel disgusted by the casual attitude given to someone scratching a hole in their face.
* Physical God: Sabbah Eid
* Take That: The sadistic, self-centred, greedy, amoral villains are called Bush and Blair.
* The Ferry Man: All gods, demons, deities, anthropomorphic personifications etc. of death have a boat for ferrying souls to the afterlife.
* Theme Naming: Almost everything in the book is named after people and places in Jordan.
* These Hands Have Killed: Jebel feels guilty and disgusted after he kills Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair.
* The Un Favorite: Jebel gets significantly less attention from his father and his public shaming by him prompts him to go on the quest.
* Those Two Bad Guys: Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are a textbook example.