From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up 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. Anthony C. Doyle, Livingston High School, CA
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Though its basis on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides a potential inroad for educators, the nonstop action and violence make Shan’s latest best suited for reading with no strings attached. It is the saga of young Jebel Rum, the weakest son of the best executioner in the land of Wadi. When Jebel is publicly shamed, he embarks upon a quest to mythical Tubaygat, where legend holds he will be granted invincibility if he makes it through alive and sacrifices a slave. Tel Hasani volunteers for the suicide role in exchange for his family’s freedom, and the duo’s relationship commences with continual indignities thrown at the slave by his privileged master. By its very nature, the episodic design requires readers to repeatedly refresh their interest level; thankfully, Shan leaves no stone unturned, no lesson unlearned, and no head unsevered. Mad cults, ghostly reapers, grave robbers, and more provide the trials that shape Jebel’s developing awareness of the world around him. A gripping, enveloping adventure about, of all things, the power of kindness. Grades 9-12. --Daniel Kraus