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DNF Review: The Thin Executioner by Darren Shan

Title: The Thin Executioner
Author: Darren Shan
Series: None
Rating: 1/5 Stars

410 pages
Published September 2010 by HarperCollins Children’s Books

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Terrible. Stopped at 187 pages.

You know, I love Darren Shan’s books. I fell in love with his vampire Cirque du Freak books when I was younger, and rediscovered my love for his writing with his Demonata series. From the title and cover of The Thin Executioner I was expecting a story about an unlikely hero, obviously quite thin, that’s an executioner. I make a point not to read blurbs because they tend to be spoiler-ish, and I thought that it being written by Darren Shan I was safe to assume I would enjoy this book.

And then I got this horrible concoction of over the top religious and political references set in some kind of Middle-Eastern post-apocalyptic medieval world. What the…?

First of all, if you do choose an outlandish setting for your story you will probably use unconventional names. I’m fine with this – some semi-Arabic dude called Sir Stuart Harrison wouldn’t fit, but you do have to make sure the common reader can actually remember the names, and make sure they’re different from each other. Well, within the first few pages we meet the main character Jebel Rum’s brothers, called J’an and Ja’l. Really? Are we supposed to think these brothers are actually different people when they have almost identical names? To add just an extra whiff of confusion, we are also soon introduced to another J’al, who we will just have to remember by his unpronounceable name. The setting was apparently inspired by the country of Jordan, so I assume the names were as well. Maybe J’al is as common there as Tom here, but I really doubt his choice to use the same name twice in a novel. Other names include Danafa Alg, Zarnoug Al Dahbbeh, Tel Hesani and other gems that slipped out of my mind the moment I read them.

Another little annoyance I had while reading the book was quite a personal one. Jebel has a pet name for a girl he knows, Bastina. The pet name is Bas. Bas is actually a very common name in the Netherlands for males, and coincidentally is the name of my boyfriend. I wasn’t that keen on seeing my boyfriend’s name stuck on some whiny and annoying girl.

But to be honest the names aren’t the reason I stopped reading, and neither were all the stupid non-English words added for “people” and “land of the X” (which complicated reading to an unnecessary degree) or all the different tribes that you couldn’t keep from each other without the help of the map provided. In my opinion, when you actually have to consult the map while reading, the author is failing in making the story come alive in the reader’s mind. But to return to my main issue.

Our main characters Jebel Rum and Tel Hesani meet two shady traders called Master Bush and Master Blair.

Oh. My. God.

How frigging obvious is that? Getting his political ideas into this book with the subtlety of a punch in the face was in my opinion, deal-breaking. I want to read a book about an executioner boy, I am not interested in Shan’s political satire.

Neither am I interested in his dumbed-down religious discourses. Really, these are gold. This was one of my favourites.

“It’s no secret, my… it’s no secret,” said Tel Hesani. “I have been thinking of the belieft of the Um Siq and the um Kathib.” [inconsistent capitalisation original]
“Why?” Jebel frowned. “These people and the snake worshippers are heretics.”
“We can all learn from the faiths of others,” Tel Hesani disagreed.
“Learn what?” Jebel huffed. “If you think that you know the truth of the gods – or God in your case – why do you care what others believe?”
“Only God knows the absolute truth,” Tel Hesani said. “There is always more for men to learn. We grope towards understanding, revealing it a piece at a time. No one should ever shut off his mind to new ideas.”
“You’re wrong,” said Jebel. “My people know all about the gods, how the world was created, what’s wrong and what’s right. If you studied our beliefs, you’d know it all too.”

So, apparently we’re getting all-religions-are-equals lessons jackhammered into our brains? In about the entire part of the story as far as I read (which was half-way), Jebel is the puppet with a “I don’t care for other ideas” sticker on his head, while Tel Hesani is the understanding “but I will teach you the way, young padawan” dude. Oh, hell no.

After two-hundred pages of this bull-shit I put The Thin Executioner down. I am fine with intellectual discussions about philosophy and religion, but I will not be talked down to in this mind-numbing manner. I will read Mr Shan’s work again, but from now on I will stick to his vampire and demon fiction.


In a brutal nation of warriors, Jebel’s family holds the highest honor: his father is executioner. But Jebel is considered too thin to compete to replace him.

Humiliated and furious, Jebel vows to regain his honor in a quest to petition the fire god for invincibility. The journey is long, filled with unknown monsters. And by the end of it Jebel isn’t quite sure what he wants anymore.

In Darren Shan’s imaginative first standalone novel, he explores themes of religious tolerance and cultural understanding, and champions the idea that peace is often the bravest choice of all.

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