I’m spoiling myself now. Following on from Silence, which I didn’t enjoy, I’ve treated myself to two books I knew I’d like. One because I know the author, and one because I know the author and also I’ve read it before.
So, with Six Years out of the way, I dived into The Thin Executioner.
Darren Shan and Me
I’ve mentioned Darren Shan before.
He’s a personal hero of mine. Not only because his books are top but because of the amount he has given back to budding authors still finding their way. Especially younger ones. Teenagers and such of which I was, at one point, one.
For every book Shan has written, he has uploaded his author notes. The history of each book, how they developed and what was going on in his life at the time.
They are amazing – insightful, inspiring, and useful.
It’s because of said notes that I write so much about my writing process, as I go along. Although there is more to be gleaned from this multi-best seller than from me, a multi-seller.
I’ve read the notes for most of his books many times – saddo that I am – and went back to read those for Executioner before starting this blog.
They were enjoyable as ever, but I won’t go into them now. You can check them out yourself here, and I’d recommend doing so.
What I will mention is one part towards the beginning of the notes where Darren recounts how he got the idea for Executioner.
He was reading a Phillip Pullman book (no not one of those) and saw an image of a classic executioner.
That was it.
This one image sparked an idea which blossomed into a story.
Authors always say they don’t know where their ideas come from, and this is true. Most of the time. But, in my experience, it is always moments like this.
For my ideas, I won’t go looking. I will be minding my own business, doing whatever, and I’ll see something, or read something, and an idea for a story will pop into my mind.
Just like that.
It’s an odd thing, and not something I’ve developed or worked on. Just something that’s always happened, and it’s interesting to see that’s the case with Darren Shan as well.
I guess it’s common.
But anyway, you’re not here to hear about how I get my ideas. You’re here to hear about the Thin Executioner or, more likely, by mistake.
Well, now I’ve got you…
The Thin Executioner
Read from 05/12/2017 – 08/12/2017
is a story of a young boy who lives in a world that is very different and very similar to ours.
In his country the second most powerful position is executioner, and strength and courage are traits valued above all else.
Jebel is the son of incumbent executioner, Rashad. He’s in love with the High Maid, and he desires the respect of his father, his fellow countrymen, and the Gods.
But, when Rashad announces he will step down as Executioner in a years time, he snubs Jebel when discussing his successor. Mentioning only Jeb’s older brothers, who are big and strong where Jebel is small and weak.
His pride hurt, Jebel asks permission to take a quest to the home of a fire God across the continent. Here he will sacrifice a slave and, in doing so, gain ultimate power. With which he can return, become executioner, and marry the high maid.
Whether he does so or not, I wouldn’t want to spoil, so let’s review some of the book’s key aspects.
Most of Darren’s books are set in our world (or something close to it) with only occasional breaches into mythical lands.
So, it was interesting here to see a story set in a fantasy land.
World building is tough. You have to create a whole range of beliefs, people’s, politics etc.
Darren Shan, having not done so before, handles this task with a deft touch and excellent results.
His world contains several nations, each with their own beliefs and systems. It’s clear he has taken the time to work out everything he needs to know about the world to convey what he needs to convey to us.
Sometimes, authors can ruin a great story by telling us every little detail about their world. Even the parts that bare no relevance to the plot.
Darren avoids this. He drops enough information to immerse us in his world, without drowning us in facts.
The world unfolds in front of us, and we get to know it, but never at the cost of the story.
And speaking of story…
This is good.
In most instances, I’m not a huge fan of books set outside our world. They can involve fantasy and magic and whatever else, but I like to know that wherever I am, London is no more than a day’s flight away.
The Thin Executioner takes us away from what we know but still works.
The story is fast-paced and engaging, and as I mention above, Darren doesn’t shove world down our throats.
The story is supported by the world, not the other way around. So I found it easy to work my way through this tale, without ever getting bored on the way.
Despite being set in a big world, the cast of Executioner is small.
We spend most of our time with Jebel Rum, our lead, and his slave, Tel Hessani.
Both of these characters are interesting and well fleshed out. They also work as the perfect foils for each other. Jebel is (or begins as) arrogant, cruel and narrow-minded. He is unable to understand or accept belief systems other than those he has been raised with might have merit.
Tel is the opposite. Coming from an accepting nation, he has his belief systems but understands we must be tolerant of all peoples and beliefs.
The dynamic between the two is the driving force of the book and keeps us engaged throughout.
Beyond these two there are other characters to get interested in. Most only get glancing appearances but are exciting and have their own stories.
The two most heavily featured characters are Masters Bush and Blair (yes, done on purpose). These two form an interesting contrast to most characters and races in this world. As well as forming intriguing recurring antagonists for Jebel to face.
Overall, this is an exciting cast. Focused on Jebel and Tel, but with a supporting cast that never disappoints.
Themes and messages
As a rule, I hate books (And songs and films) that are too preachy.
It’s just not what I’m there for.
Executioner has every potential to fall into this trap. The story is there to challenge Jebel’s beliefs and ideas. Through him, we are shown that tolerance is important, and execution is bad.
While it is obvious this is what Shan is doing, I don’t think these messages ever take from the story, and that’s important.
They are the story, and so not only do they not have to be shoehorned in, it would seem weird if they weren’t there.
Because of that, the preachiness gets a pass.
Dealing with world building and strong messages are dangerous things to do, and can lose readers if not done right.
Luckily, we are dealing with an author here who understands story comes first, and everything else must support it.
That’s what keeps this book moving and make everything else work around it.
For that reason, this book is a 4/5, and Darren Shan is one of the best YA writers out there.
Or so says I.
Two good books in a row.
It must be time to read something a little less exciting.
Next time out I’ll be taking on The Entrepreneur’s Book of Checklists.
So… wait for that with baited breath.