Synopsis: Jebel Rum's biggest weakness... is weakness. As the son of Um Wadi's executioner, he's expected to try out for his father's job - except that he's too skinny to wield the heavy axe. A laughing stock in his home town, Jebel embarks on a perilous quest to the lair of a mysterious god. It is a dark, brutal, terrifying journey. But to Jebel Rum, the risk is worth it.
Book cover: I have this edition. I can't say I like it much but I suppose it's appropriate for the type of novel.
I had to think about whether to recommend this novel, because while it was well written and well plotted with good characterisation - and was so gripping that I read the entire novel in one go - it was also often rather disturbing. Violence was ever-present. There was constant murder (and otherwise violent death, and not only of adults), torture, even some particularly memorable cannibalism. Honestly, I can barely believe that it's marketed as a children's book - I deliberately categorised it as "teenage" above.
Aside from my personal preference for less gore, however, it was an excellent story. Jebel is accidentally humiliated by his father, and to prove himself and regain his honour, he decides to go on a quest - one that requires a willing sacrifice at the end. He finds a man, a slave, who agrees to go with him and be his sacrifice, in exchange for the freedom of his family. Jebel's changing relationship with this slave, along with the changes to his own attitudes towards execution and slavery, are the focus of the novel and expertly depicted. The slave, Tel Hesani, is possibly the most interesting aspect of the novel.
I would have liked to see more attention being given to Jebel's relationships with his father and his two brothers. Considering how central a role his father's actions play in initiating Jebel's quest, it would have been good to see more about Jebel's childhood, his father's feelings about him, and his family's reactions to him choosing the quest, as well as their reactions to the changes in him upon his return.
Overall, I would say that I'm glad I read the book, but I probably will not be reading it for a second time, nor seeking out other novels by the same author. It is well written and gripping, but simply too dark and violent for me to truly enjoy.