Darran Shan's first stand-alone book for children - a fantasy epic, that's big on philosophy yet surprisingly small on gore! Crikey. This is something completely different from the crowned king of teenage horror. In Shan's previous books there has always been a strong sub-current of thoughtful humanity, but in this book it is the central core.
Jebel is the runt in a family of strong men; his father holding the esteemed position of executioner. Shamed by his weak stature he goes on a quest to gain invincibility from a God in a far-away mountain, with plans to return and claim the title of executioner and the maid of his choice. He takes with him a lowly slave, Tel Hesani, who will be his sacrifice. As the journey starts Jebel is a tough, proud youth who believes whole-hearted everything he has been brought up to (such as showing compassion to others in a lower class angers the Gods). By the end of the journey Jebel has experienced many difference cultures and philosophies of religion; he has met evil men who enslave him and learnt to love Tel Hesani as an equal (which proves a bit of a bother when the time comes to sacrifice him). The end is thoughtful and eloquent but not obvious.
This is really a rather outstanding book about politics and religion, all skilfully wrapped up in an action-packed tale of one boy's journey and 'coming of age' - and hardly ANY gore, really almost none at all – a few murders and executions, some self mutilation and cannibalism... but really quite clean (may disappoint some hardcore Shan fans).
At 400+ pages it does definitely fall into the fantasy epic journey genre, but it never once lacks pace. The writing is classic Darren Shan: light yet subtly very intelligent and full of human psychology, but it also seems more mature than previous books, appealing to a much wider audience, and also an older one (adults are definitely encouraged to read this one). Absolutely recommended to everyone. 9+