Children's Literature | 23 November 2010 | Cynthia Levinson

The title character of this picaresque fantasy, Jebel Rum, is a thin weakling of a boy who aspires to succeed his father as executioner of Abu Aineh, a nation in the far south of the land Makhras. After the high lord, the executioner is the most powerful man, and Jebel, hopes to win the love of Debbat Alg, the beautiful daughter of the lord. The only way he can best his two stronger older brothers in the competition that will determine who will be executioner is to go on a quest, to petition Sabbah Eid for inhuman strength. Jebel and his slave, Tel Hesani, trek the meandering route through other nations, around and over mountains, across swamps, trying to fend off, among other hazards, murderous traders who kidnap and enslave him. They force him to plunder graves, an undertaking he dreads because it will rob him of his humanity. Multiple adventures follow, including imprisonment, attempts to convert him to another religion, near-starvation because he refuses to eat human flesh, and an encounter with a god of death with whom he bargains for his life. At his lowest point, he forsakes the quest, but Tel Hesani persuades him to continue. When he finally meets with Sabbah Eid, she tells him to use the power she gives him to make the world a better place, a command he must decipher. In the end, he does so in a way that may surprise but satisfy readers. The prolific author has written a fast-paced, if somewhat formulaic story, which he asserts is based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but whose characters and place-names are Jordanian. These make for an exotic yet not unfamiliar saga, which his fans will find alluring.

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