Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: "He has a nose," people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.As Tracker follows the boy's scent—from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers—he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a saga of breathtaking adventure that's also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truths, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1) Details

TitleBlack Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 5th, 2019
PublisherRiverhead Books
ISBN-139780735220171
Rating
GenreFantasy, Fiction, Adult

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1) Review

  • شيماء ✨
    January 1, 1970
    book: *is an epic fantasy*me: hm. okbook: *is set in a fantasy version of Africa and is deeply rooted in African mythology, complete with vampires, witches, necromancers, shape-shifters and double-crossing ex-boyfriends while on a mercenary job*me: oh shit. ohgh fuck!!!!!
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  • karen
    January 1, 1970
    as you can see, i am very far behind in my reading challenge, and this book is largely to blame. i have been looking forward to this book for a whole year, and i’d planned on spending the day of its release reading all 620 pages cover to cover, with occasional breaks for restorative snacks. that was the plan.insert laughter of god(s). instead, this took me nearly a week to get through. it’s certainly possible for a human to read it in one very intense day, but it would not have been enjoyable, t as you can see, i am very far behind in my reading challenge, and this book is largely to blame. i have been looking forward to this book for a whole year, and i’d planned on spending the day of its release reading all 620 pages cover to cover, with occasional breaks for restorative snacks. that was the plan.insert laughter of god(s). instead, this took me nearly a week to get through. it’s certainly possible for a human to read it in one very intense day, but it would not have been enjoyable, to me. this is a book that needs to steep and settle; you need to live in its world for more than one day. it is my favorite kind of book: brutal situations, written beautifully.it’s as violent as The Book of Night Women, as sprawling and circuitous as A Brief History of Seven Killings and someday i will read my copy of John Crow's Devil so i can provide a third simile here. it is a dense book, and i can see it losing some readers along the way. marlon james is a phenomenal writer, but he has no interest in holding your readerly hand. keep up or don’t, it’s all the same to him. his books aren’t difficult to understand; the challenge here isn’t tied to his language or concepts, both of which are very approachable, but in your having the patience to see the big picture he’s tossed you somewhere in the middle of. You have come for a story and I am moved to talk, so the gods have smiled on both of us.and the imprisoned tracker will talk - telling all the stories that brought him to this place, and all the stories he heard along the way. so many stories, so many characters, so many digressions tucked within digressions, all hiding tricky sticky things whose import you won’t understand until much later.but what of the child, whose death tracker gleefully reports on the very first page, the little boy who disappeared and whose safe return was so essential to the future of the kingdom that tracker and a ragtag band of mercenaries, shapeshifters, witches, etc. were hired to locate him and bring him back? what about him?as tracker will accuse another character, ”Right now, your story has meat where you will not talk, bone where you do.” james will make you work for his meat, but even his bones will satisfy you. and so will his filthy double entendres and euphemisms, if you’re into that sort of thing. i sure am. there’s a lot here. i’m still kind of reeling from it. i don’t have a strong epic fantasy background, and going into this - despite all the maps of imaginary realms and the large cast of characters* listed in the front matter, i felt reasonably confident, figuring - ‘how epic fantasy can this really be, coming from a man who has never written epic fantasy before? it’ll just be james trying on an epic fantasy coat to see what it’s like, yeah?’but no, it’s the real deal. i don’t know where this beast was nestling in the folds of his historical/crime fictiony brain, but apparently there is nothing he can’t do. don’t get me wrong, there are times i was confused as hell because he’ll mention something he hasn’t yet explained, so you think, ‘wait, did i miss something?’ don’t worry. you didn’t. it’s coming. but it can be a lot to absorb - there are a ton of characters, most of them are unreliable narrators, many of them have special abilities or limitations, and all of them will shift relationship statuses throughout the course of the book from friends to allies to foes to lovers, or a combination plate of those aforementioned things, there are magical doors that my brain doesn’t understand, stories will be told more than once, the devil is always in the details and there are a lot of details. there is also a buffalo. and an anansi/spiderman who jizzes webbing. but nearly all your questions will eventually be answered.greg asked me at several points during my reading of this how it was. and every time, to his immense frustration, i would say, “it’s really good.” because, unless you are michiko kakutani, this is a hard book to talk about without sounding like you’re recounting a fever dream. her review is here.and even though she fails to mention the jizzwebbing, it’s still a much better review than whatever it is i’m doing here. trigger warnings: all of them. and many that never existed before this book.** in conclusion, a tremendous achievement. i hope he’s not gonna george r r martin this trilogy, because i’m already ready to give him another week of my life, reading challenge be damned. play me out, marlon...Day seven, I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women too. There were men wiser, and women too. There were men quicker, and women too. There was always someone or some two or some three who will grab me like a stick and break me, grab me like wet cloth, and wring everything out of me. And that was just the way of the world. That was the way of everybody’s world. I who thought he had his hatchets and his cunning, will one day be grabbed and tossed and thrown in with shit, and beaten and destroyed. I am the one who will need saving, and it’s not that someone will come and save me, or that nobody will, but that I will need saving, and walking forth in the world in the shape and step of a man meant nothing. * i found it very helpful to read the character list/description at the front before starting each section.** i take squeamish delight in my own triggers, and this book has both eye trauma AND birds, so ♥ ♥ ♥ for days*****************************************2/11/19nobody loves no one review to come*****************************************2/5/19signed copy - BOOM!today, we read.*****************************************2/4/18 so, when penicillin came 'round, and everyone was all stunned and grateful and, "ohhhhhh, we didn't realize how badly we needed this!" that's me. right now. wanting this with a fierceness.come to my blog!
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I felt oddly removed from this book at the beginning, and by the end I was crying every other page. So there's that.
  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    It seems rather simplistic to say the book isn’t enjoyable, especially since I doubt that’s what the author was aiming for in the first place, but this is no easy fare. While it’s sold as a fantasy novel, it’s styled more in the vein of the classical poetic tradition, an inventive and challenging blend of imagination, myth, and history. Of course, the African foundation brings with it different types of stories and forms than those which underly the Greek/Roman mythic tradition but the same fund It seems rather simplistic to say the book isn’t enjoyable, especially since I doubt that’s what the author was aiming for in the first place, but this is no easy fare. While it’s sold as a fantasy novel, it’s styled more in the vein of the classical poetic tradition, an inventive and challenging blend of imagination, myth, and history. Of course, the African foundation brings with it different types of stories and forms than those which underly the Greek/Roman mythic tradition but the same fundamental questioning is at its heart. Like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it’s an interconnected compilation of stories, featuring representations of violence and transformation throughout. Here, the overarching narrative is the tracking of a lost child, but this is a book of movement and journey, change and discovery. There’s so much more to it than this one tale, instead it’s a meandering exploration of an unknowable world. And yet, it's precisely this which is its downfall. The pacing is uneven and the whole experience one of crazy disorganisation. It reads like a dreamscape, full of portent and stark brutality. The writing is often staccato, list-like, with small, well-crafted sentences that are a perfect foil for Marlon James’ ability, showcasing his striking imagery and unusual connections. Yes, it’s beautiful at times, but, for me at least, emotionless. There’s so much power in the description, so much said with so little: ‘my father was looking to win, not to play’. How much history and painful knowledge is in those few words? How much does it say about the relationship between father and son? And yet because the structure reads like this happened and this happened and this happened, I could see these moments and what they’re supposed to mean, but I couldn’t feel them. Interactions are like theatrical exchanges, more statements than conversation, everything performative and apparently profound. Characters have limited realism, some act as symbols, some merely a means of upping the violence levels still further. When read all at once, it’s an endless and eventually numbing litany of misery and horror that loses any meaning.What’s even more distancing is the sordid humanity. The more myth I read, and I mean real myth not the sanitised Disney versions, the more it feels like an endlessly repetitive orgy of rape and violence, both human and divine. And this is no exception. The misogynistic narrator is obsessively sexual and the book is filled with references to and descriptions of abuse, rape, gang rape, borderline bestiality, and other sexual weirdness that seems to have no real relevance. Right in the opening pages Tracker taunts his jailor for wanting to have sex with a child. Seriously, I don’t usually do trigger warnings but this book should have big flashing neon signs. Actually, I don’t really know how much of this stuff was in the book as a whole was but it felt like too much. Altogether tiresome and unnecessary. It takes a lot to make me flinch but the amount of times I wondered why the hell I was continuing to read this book was way more frequent than I’d usually put up with. And why? Because it’s Marlon James. Because he’s this cool-as-shit writer and maybe I’m the one missing something. Maybe I am, but I can’t bring myself to care that much.Would I recommend it? No. Not as a novel to sit down and lose yourself in. As an exploration of folklore and myth, sure. As an example of a particular style of writing, definitely. All I’d say is before you pick up this book, know what you’re getting into. ARC via publisher
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  • Meike
    January 1, 1970
    Fuck the gods!, as the protagonist of this epic would put it, this clearly is a 5-star-read, and I don't even like fantasy! James takes his readers to an ancient, otherwordly Africa, where themes of Greek and African mythology merge into a sprawling tale about the battles between different tribes and kingdoms, all of them with their own beliefs, powers, and cultures. We join our narrator Tracker, who possesses the gift of a heightened sense of smell, in the quest for a young boy -but the first s Fuck the gods!, as the protagonist of this epic would put it, this clearly is a 5-star-read, and I don't even like fantasy! James takes his readers to an ancient, otherwordly Africa, where themes of Greek and African mythology merge into a sprawling tale about the battles between different tribes and kingdoms, all of them with their own beliefs, powers, and cultures. We join our narrator Tracker, who possesses the gift of a heightened sense of smell, in the quest for a young boy -but the first sentences already give away the ending: "The child is dead. There is nothing left to know." The focus of this novel is on searching, and in more than one way. In the central storyline of the book, Tracker joins a gang of characters who aim to find the mysterious boy for their powerful client - but at that point, they don't know who the boy really is and what they are getting themselves into. Among this illustrous group are a witch, a killer with superhuman strength, a magical buffalo, and of course Tracker's lover, the shape-shifting Leopard (and yes, Red Wolf is Tracker himself, but you have to find out why by reading the novel! :-)). The group roams the lands in search of the boy, encountering all kinds of people and creatures along the way.Ultimately, angry and sensitive Tracker, who has no family, is searching for purpose, for meaning. He himself seems to be unsure whether he is good or even striving for what's good, but he clearly perceives the vacuousness in the hate and violence around him. He is lost and trying to be found - but by what? My guess is that this question may be central to the whole Dark Star Trilogy. Another captivating aspect of the book is the way James adds more and more stories to that of Tracker: There are no shifting points of view, rather, other perspectives are revealed through storytelling. Yes, there are numerous stories the characters tell each other, thus creating a written text that heavily relies on oral traditions. The people choose to reveal themselves to Tracker, and often, they prove to be unreliable narrators, omitting important details or giving false Information. This narrative technique adds a lot of suspense to the overall story and depth to the characters.On top of that, James shines with his inventive language - he manages to give his characters unique voices that do not only convey thoughts and information, but reflect the spirits of the speakers. In fact, I would claim that it's the characters who make this story so addictive: Sure, the chase for the boy is suspenseful and the narrative arc is very smart, but the fascinating, often contradictory personalities of Tracker, Leopard, Sadogo and the others are what glues the reader to this text. Asked when the next installment of the trilogy will be published, James answered: "Well, my publisher thinks in two years." I really hope it won't take longer! :-)
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  • Tatiana
    January 1, 1970
    I surrender.I can handle many things as a reader:The stream-of-consciousness style of writing, when you don't really understand what's going on but just have to immerse yourself in a narrative until it starts making sense. All the raping and gore and general fixation on penis as THE center of everyone's world.Messiness of time lines.James uses every tool in his toolbox of pretentious literary devices. If he wants to dedicate half a page to explaining that Leopard smells like ass, ok, fine, go fo I surrender.I can handle many things as a reader:The stream-of-consciousness style of writing, when you don't really understand what's going on but just have to immerse yourself in a narrative until it starts making sense. All the raping and gore and general fixation on penis as THE center of everyone's world.Messiness of time lines.James uses every tool in his toolbox of pretentious literary devices. If he wants to dedicate half a page to explaining that Leopard smells like ass, ok, fine, go for it. I can deal with these things, and I am willing to work hard while reading.But this story needed at least a little bit of grounding in something real, something relatable and human. The last straw for me was the realization that James would never allow his characters to talk to each other in any other way but riddles, faux-deep statements and stories about killings and rapes of children, women and men. What's left to relate to then? How to connect with a story that doesn't give you anything to tether you to it?I can’t do it.
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    You can watch my over-excited fangirl video review here!What a wholly-immersive wild adventure this novel is! Going into it I knew Marlon James has a talent for writing intricate sweeping tales from having read his previous novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings". That book greatly enhanced his international prominence having won the Booker Prize in 2015. That same year I was one of the judges of The Green Carnation Prize and we also selected his novel as a winner - not just for the magnificen You can watch my over-excited fangirl video review here!What a wholly-immersive wild adventure this novel is! Going into it I knew Marlon James has a talent for writing intricate sweeping tales from having read his previous novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings". That book greatly enhanced his international prominence having won the Booker Prize in 2015. That same year I was one of the judges of The Green Carnation Prize and we also selected his novel as a winner - not just for the magnificence of his storytelling but the meaningful inclusion of gay characters and gay sex in this Jamaican story about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and drug trafficking. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is very different from that previous book yet still retains James’ unique style, sensibility and alluring mischievousness. Touted as an ‘African Game of Thrones’, it describes a fantastical medieval adventure involving warring kingdoms, witches, giants, shape-shifters and a quest for a missing child. But it’s all firmly rooted in African mythology, language and history. There have been significant examples recently of storytelling whose narratives aren’t wholly based in an Anglo-Saxon past but draw instead upon traditions in African culture. From Tomi Adeyemi’s “Children of Blood and Bone” to Akwaeke Emezi’s “Freshwater” to the phenomenally successful film Black Panther, these tales insist upon the presence of African lore and pay respect to its cultural history whose influence has largely been absent from Western narratives. Marlon James does the same while creating a riveting journey that has all the marks of a fantasy novel but also explores sophisticated ideas about the meaning of storytelling and explicitly adult themes about ambition, relationships, sex and violence. Read my full review of Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James on LonesomeReader
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  • BookOfCinz
    January 1, 1970
    “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James is the first book on the Dark Star Trilogy. This trilogy has already been dubbed in the publishing world as “the African Game of Thrones” and I will tell you why soon. The publication date for this is January 2019 but thanks to those amazing people over at Riverhead Books I get an early peek into this enthralling tale. We meet the main character Tracker, a hunter who is know for his nose- once he catches the scent of a person he cannot let it go until “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James is the first book on the Dark Star Trilogy. This trilogy has already been dubbed in the publishing world as “the African Game of Thrones” and I will tell you why soon. The publication date for this is January 2019 but thanks to those amazing people over at Riverhead Books I get an early peek into this enthralling tale. We meet the main character Tracker, a hunter who is know for his nose- once he catches the scent of a person he cannot let it go until that person is found, dead or alive. It is because of this specific skill Tracker is commissioned to look for a boy who disappeared under very mysterious circumstances three years ago. Tracker finds out he is not the only person looking for the boy, and the search turns into a team effort, but not everyone on the team can be trusted. The group that accompanies Tracker on his search is filled with mysterious characters all with secrets and hidden agendas. Tracker and his team move from one city to a next, through enchanted forests and magical doors. Their journey is filled with curveballs and mythical creature intent on killing them. The group ends up getting divided, mistrust surrounds them, and Tracker cannot help but question why he decided to find this boy and who he can trust to help him complete his mission. To be fair, it took awhile for me to get into the book but after the first 70 pages it was smooth sailing. I think with the numerous characters and interwoven storylines of each character is becomes a bit hard to keep track of who is who. In true Marlon James’ fashion the book is filled with very graphic scenes both sexually and in the description of how persons died. If you can push through these scenes without your stomach turning, then you are good to go. Honestly, Marlon James did not disappoint with his first installation of the Dark Star Trilogy. I was kept guessing the entire time. I cannot wait for the next installation in this series. I am hoping this series makes it to the big screen, I want to see these characters come to life. This is a must read for me! Full review on www.bookofcinz.com
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  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    Stand aside, Beowulf. There’s a new epic hero slashing his way into our hearts, and we may never get all the blood off our hands.Marlon James is a Jamaican-born writer who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” his blazing novel about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. Now, James is clear-cutting space for a whole new kingdom. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the first spectacular volume of a planned trilogy, rises up from the mists of time, glistening like visc Stand aside, Beowulf. There’s a new epic hero slashing his way into our hearts, and we may never get all the blood off our hands.Marlon James is a Jamaican-born writer who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” his blazing novel about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. Now, James is clear-cutting space for a whole new kingdom. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the first spectacular volume of a planned trilogy, rises up from the mists of time, glistening like viscera. James has spun an African fantasy as vibrant, complex and haunting as any Western mythology, and nobody who survives reading this book will ever forget it. That thunder you hear is the jealous rage of Olympian gods.“We tell stories to live,” says Tracker, the indefatigable narrator, who tells a lot of stories but doesn’t let many people live. When the novel opens, Tracker is rotting in a dungeon where he recently stabbed, crushed and blinded his five cellmates. They had it coming — or most of them did — and in any case, it’s a perfect introduction to. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
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  • Marchpane
    January 1, 1970
    Caveat: Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an epic sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel from Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James. This is not literary fiction dressed up in genre clothing! What it is:- fantasy at its freshest and most exciting.Lone wolf Tracker and a rag tag bunch of shapeshifters, witches and mercenaries reluctantly team up to locate a missing child, encountering along the way all manner of winged demons, evil spirits, slavers, white scientists, and warring royals. Their quest takes th Caveat: Black Leopard, Red Wolf is an epic sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel from Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James. This is not literary fiction dressed up in genre clothing! What it is:- fantasy at its freshest and most exciting.Lone wolf Tracker and a rag tag bunch of shapeshifters, witches and mercenaries reluctantly team up to locate a missing child, encountering along the way all manner of winged demons, evil spirits, slavers, white scientists, and warring royals. Their quest takes them all over a spectacularly imagined fantasy world, where all is not what it seems. It’s a dark, dizzying, vibrant, surreal immersion into African folklore; a grotesquery of nightmares. The book is structured as a picaresque, and reduced to its most simplistic terms consists of: Tracker and his band of travellers arrive in location – describe location’s physical features, politics, culture – encounter some bad guys – describe bad guys’ physical features, magic powers, motivations – BADASS ACTION SEQUENCE – and repeat. Obviously, it’s much more sophisticated than that, but you get the idea. The cycle occurs more times than is strictly necessary for the overarching narrative to unfurl, but really this is the kind of book that’s about the journey more than the destination. You’re not just reading to find out how it ends (though there is that too) but for everything that happens along the way; for the incredible, vivid world that is wrought; for the characters and creatures that inhabit it. In this way, it is much closer to older storytelling forms - oral tradition, ancient folktales and myths - than to the three-act structure of most contemporary novels.Potential criticisms of Black Leopard, Red Wolf – side characters are underdeveloped, political machinations are both murky and simplistic – are mitigated by the fact that this seems to be all part of James’s master plan for the trilogy and will be redressed in parts 2 & 3. Meanwhile, this book manages to subvert almost every fantasy trope. Tracker himself is less ‘hero on noble quest’ and more like a world-weary PI from a hard-boiled noir, albeit one with enhanced abilities. From there, his character develops in fascinating and heartbreaking ways.The focus on one character means that the book sustains much the same intensity and tone throughout its 600-plus pages. There aren’t the usual narrative tricks to propel you along, and we know from the beginning that Tracker at least survives to tell his tale. So it’s best to sink into the story, just let it unfold the way Tracker wants to tell it, and trust that James is in total control of his vision. Tracker has a way of skipping ahead, then circling back; of telling tales within tales, until you’re thoroughly disoriented and have forgotten how many levels deep into story-inception you are. But he also provides helpful recaps along the way, invaluable for keeping the threads straight in a book this long.It’s interesting that James has chosen to give us only Tracker’s slippery first person POV here, rather than alternating POVs of different characters. We know from interviews that the trilogy will include other voices and perspectives, but we’re made to wait for them. Is Tracker telling the truth? Everything we think we know from Black Leopard, Red Wolf can be turned on its head in book 2 and that’s sooo exciting. I just hope he writes fast!
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  • Daniel Greene
    January 1, 1970
    I have so many feelings about this one. Can't really see myself giving it a simple 1-5 rating. Needs a heck of a lot of discussion.
  • Rod-Kelly Hines
    January 1, 1970
    By now, one can easily identify certain features that define the "Jamesian" style: cinematic violence, shameless sexuality, perverse, sharp humor and wit, flawlessly rendered settings, and virtuosic, rhythmic language. There is also the strong presence of the fantastic: ghosts and spirits, obeah women and demons who haunt the pages of his visceral stories.Black Leopard, Red Wolf finds Marlon James at the peak of his powers, unafraid to shed the cloak of realism that won him the Man Booker prize By now, one can easily identify certain features that define the "Jamesian" style: cinematic violence, shameless sexuality, perverse, sharp humor and wit, flawlessly rendered settings, and virtuosic, rhythmic language. There is also the strong presence of the fantastic: ghosts and spirits, obeah women and demons who haunt the pages of his visceral stories.Black Leopard, Red Wolf finds Marlon James at the peak of his powers, unafraid to shed the cloak of realism that won him the Man Booker prize in favor of a full-blown, epic fantasy saga. (And at a time when genre-snobbery is at an all-time high.) In the hands of this master novelist, the genre's conventions are blown apart and reassembled as something bold and subversive, aware of its capaciousness but incredibly nuanced and carefully built. It is a novel that resists categorization and description, set as it is in an impeccably and exhaustively researched world of folklore and myth drawn from regions of Central and West Africa, and exploratory of contemporary themes of gender equality and political corruption, queer identity and the exploration of love (and glorious sex 🤷🏽‍♂️) between black men. The characters in this novel are sublimely realized. So much care went into their conception and I was stunned by the depth and range of emotion MJ was able to coax from his sundry band of flawed creatures. Defying the Western belief in one definitive version of a story, BLRW is structured as an oral epic in which stories lead to more stories which lead to yet more, ultimately providing the reader with a conundrum of reliability: who tells the truth and whose story is being told? Marlon James chooses to leave that entirely up to the reader. There are many elusive layers of detail to sift through from the very beginning: a test of endurance, almost asking "do you really want to hear this story?" But once past its shadowy prologue, the story proceeds in a frenetic rush of action that totally engages the senses, creating an insanely, compulsively addictive reading experience. Read this for the beautiful depiction of queer love that is the true heart of the novel, a total subversion of masculine isms and male sexuality in literature. Or read it for the dejected women who rail against a corrupt patriarchy, giving voice to the trauma and abuse suffered at the hands of thoughtless men. Read it for the thrill of the quest, the adventure, replete with monsters and demons, cities in the sky and markets where witches trade in baby parts, among countless other darkly fantastic elements. The immensity of adventure in this novel lends itself to an immensity of purpose which takes familiar novelistic themes and fantasy genre tropes, and radically molds them into a form both new and hypnotic in its scope and imaginative fearlessness.
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  • Thomas Wagner
    January 1, 1970
    [4.5*] Even if it weren’t riding a wave of pre-release hype based on its author’s reputation as a winner of the Man Booker Prize, Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf would be a landmark epic fantasy. More than perhaps any recent work in the field since Steven Erikson wrapped the Malazan Book of the Fallen, this is a story that takes the “epic” aspect of the genre seriously and takes a running jump into the deep end with both feet.Black Leopard, Red Wolf isn’t interested in any rules but its o [4.5*] Even if it weren’t riding a wave of pre-release hype based on its author’s reputation as a winner of the Man Booker Prize, Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf would be a landmark epic fantasy. More than perhaps any recent work in the field since Steven Erikson wrapped the Malazan Book of the Fallen, this is a story that takes the “epic” aspect of the genre seriously and takes a running jump into the deep end with both feet.Black Leopard, Red Wolf isn’t interested in any rules but its own, carving its own niche within the genre. It has a way of feeling both old and new at the same time. You haven’t experienced any book quite like this before. Yet it feels legitimately ancient, as if it carries the weight of 4,000 years of legend. Whatever expectations you might be bringing to the story — including the simplistic idea that this is an “African Game of Thrones” — should be thrown out right now.I won’t even begin to guess what James’s following among literary fiction fans will think of this fever dream of a novel. For fantasy readers, I can point to a few antecedents that may help get the water warm. Readers of N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy will have experienced the kind of immersive, often sensually overwhelming worldbuilding James offers, as well as a story that plays out on an enormous canvas while drawing its readers in emotionally with intimate attention to character relationships, especially among families, as well as the trauma of feeling uprooted and displaced. If you’ve read Kai Ashante Wilson, then you’ll be ready for this book’s amped-up homoeroticism. Finally, readers who go way back will pick out some possible influence from Charles Saunders, a mostly-forgotten writer from the 1970s who created Imaro, a series of stories that were basically Black Conan, and which, like this book, took place in a richly imagined mythic Africa unmarred by Western colonialism.Black Leopard, Red Wolf is yet very much its own animal, a book that has no interest in offering you comfort or safe harbor as it propels you through a dense, often bewildering maze of an adventure. But like any maze... (continued...)
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  • Dax
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC from Riverhead Books through the goodreads giveaway program.This has a chance to be an impactful book. 'Black Leopard Red Wolf' feels raw; gritty even. It is graphic in its violence and sexuality and is far removed from the romanticized fantasy of Tolkien, Jordan or even Rothfuss. Maybe more like Martin, although I have not read 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. Gaiman's blurb was spot on when he called it hallucinatory; several events drift between the real and surreal. James' new wor I received an ARC from Riverhead Books through the goodreads giveaway program.This has a chance to be an impactful book. 'Black Leopard Red Wolf' feels raw; gritty even. It is graphic in its violence and sexuality and is far removed from the romanticized fantasy of Tolkien, Jordan or even Rothfuss. Maybe more like Martin, although I have not read 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. Gaiman's blurb was spot on when he called it hallucinatory; several events drift between the real and surreal. James' new work could lead to a darker sub-genre of fantasy.Character diction took a while to get used to and the argumentativeness of the characters (particularly our main protagonist Tracker) is overdone, but the characters themselves are all wonderfully unique. I will remember this novel for many reasons, but I don't think I will ever forget the scene with the monkey in the Darklands. James is good at setting your skin in motion.This is not a spoiler, but one thing I wanted to point out was that James actually wraps up the thread in this book rather well. We are not left with a cliffhanger. This is significant for two reasons: 1) it makes the wait for the second installment less miserable and 2) I'm thinking we will have a completely new story thread in book 2. Overall I thought it excellent.
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  • Perry
    January 1, 1970
    I cannot finish this. I was so looking forward to the experience. I sang the praises of his A Brief History of Seven Killings. Yet, unless I read a convincing contra argument, I refuse to suffer another 400 pages after surviving nearly half a doorstopper ravaged by the most, and most graphic of, anal rapes/assaults of men, women, boys and beasts that could be rammed into 300 pages of literary fiction.Mayhaps, this the way of this fantasy world, but I, a jujube warrior, choose to evade its tortur I cannot finish this. I was so looking forward to the experience. I sang the praises of his A Brief History of Seven Killings. Yet, unless I read a convincing contra argument, I refuse to suffer another 400 pages after surviving nearly half a doorstopper ravaged by the most, and most graphic of, anal rapes/assaults of men, women, boys and beasts that could be rammed into 300 pages of literary fiction.Mayhaps, this the way of this fantasy world, but I, a jujube warrior, choose to evade its torture.
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  • Dave
    January 1, 1970
    "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" is a novel unlike any I have ever read before both in content, in structure, in attitude, and its uniqueness is both a blessing and a curse. James offers us a fantasy adventure story that takes place in Africa perhaps in the mid-1500's among numerous West African kingdoms, set around lakes, rivers, mountains, swamps, and dark forbidding fantasylands that many would prefer to travel around than to go straight through. It is a world peopled by were-hyenas, shapeshifting t "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" is a novel unlike any I have ever read before both in content, in structure, in attitude, and its uniqueness is both a blessing and a curse. James offers us a fantasy adventure story that takes place in Africa perhaps in the mid-1500's among numerous West African kingdoms, set around lakes, rivers, mountains, swamps, and dark forbidding fantasylands that many would prefer to travel around than to go straight through. It is a world peopled by were-hyenas, shapeshifting talking leopards, vampires, carnivores, witches, warlocks, slavers, date feeders, and all manner of sexual fetishes and deviants. In contrast to fantasy novels about elves, dwarves, gnomes, hobbits, and the like, which apparently are sourced from Norwegian, Celtic, and other Northern legends, this novel is a fantasy sourced from African folktales and legends. It is thus at times fascinating and strangely foreign and unfamiliar. It is also structured unlike many adventure novels in that it is told in narrations that don't necessarily follow a clear-cut path and often deviate onto paths less traveled. It is not a story that feels linear so much as it circles around and meanders from one tall tale and one campfire legend to the next with often barely a rhyme or reason why. A rather unorthodox presentation told as folk tales around the campfire are with fits and starts and random forays into things almost forgotten and such. For some readers, that is enough and a tour guide is not needed, but others, like myself, find ourselves lost in the thick jungle of myths, fantasies, and bawdy tales. As thick, rich, and multilayered as much of it is, it was a difficult treacherous and lengthy read and a bit like walking the high wire without a safety net.
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  • Sana
    January 1, 1970
    'But to write this book I had to unlearn everything — about how language works, character works, story works, even how truth works. The trade-off is that I also ended up with Werehyenas, children made of air and dust, and vampires who have no problem hunting you in broad daylight.' I MEANNNN Can't wait to read this 720-page behemoth of a bookSource
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  • Hiu Gregg
    January 1, 1970
    This book… Where to start with this book?Black Leopard, Red Wolf has drawn a lot of attention since before it was even written. Ever since the supremely talented Marlon James, hot off the back of a deserved Man Booker Prize win for the fantastic A Brief History of Seven Killings, announced that he was going to write the “African Game of Thrones”, literary fiction and genre fiction fans alike have been waiting to see just what the hell such a book would look like.Well, it’s here now. And it’s cer This book… Where to start with this book?Black Leopard, Red Wolf has drawn a lot of attention since before it was even written. Ever since the supremely talented Marlon James, hot off the back of a deserved Man Booker Prize win for the fantastic A Brief History of Seven Killings, announced that he was going to write the “African Game of Thrones”, literary fiction and genre fiction fans alike have been waiting to see just what the hell such a book would look like.Well, it’s here now. And it’s certainly unique.First off, the writing is gorgeous. That’s not something which should surprise anyone, but the book is filled with quotable passages, lush description, and charming dialogue. But it’s also pretty horrifying. There are some really, really dark scenes in this book, and James doesn’t hold back with them. There’s very little subtlety. There are rapes, gang rapes, torture, and a whole lot of murder. And these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill atrocities, James adds a lot of weird and disgusting fantasy flavourings.In fact, the book kicks off with the death of a child. And that pretty much sets the tone for what follows.‘The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.’The story is told in the first person by our main character, Tracker – famous for his ability to find lost things and lost people. He is relating his story to a person known only as the “Inquisitor”, who wishes to know of Tracker’s search for a lost child. The child that is now dead.Through Tracker’s tale, we travel through this incredible (and incredibly dangerous) fantasy world. James ties real-world inspiration and imagination together wonderfully. There are spider-monsters, monkey-monsters, vampire-like creatures, and shapeshifters – none of which feel odd or out of place.The search for the boy is the main driving force of the story, but honestly I had a hard time connecting to this aspect of the book. Tracker is… well he’s ornery, apathetic, misogynistic, and his mouth is too big. His motivations for continuing with his search are unclear for most of the book and only gradually become clearer towards the end, once you have a more intimate knowledge of him as a character and what makes him tick. This does mean that for much of the novel it feels like Tracker is doing things Just Because. We need to find the boy because the boy needs to be found.Black Leopard, Red Wolf requires a hell of a lot of trust in the author. The story takes a while to hit its stride (around 150 pages for me), and there are so many things in the beginning stages that I can see leading to people dropping the book. There’s a lot of rape, misogyny, kinda-sorta-bestiality, some homophobia, and other gruesome and horrible things. It’s a very dark and dangerous world, for all that it’s beautiful, and you really have to trust that James knows what he’s doing.For the most part, I enjoyed the book. I found the pacing to be quite rough at the beginning and end, and I wish that we got to explore the supporting characters in a little more depth, but the parts I liked, I really liked. There are some scenes which have this wonderful frantic, nervous energy, and those are the ones I devoured.I’ve seen a lot of buzz from some readers and reviewers suggesting that this book will revolutionise the fantasy genre, but to be honest I don’t know if I agree with that assessment.I love James’ writing, and he’s proven himself a capable world-builder, but there’s so much in this book that I’ve already seen done (and done well) in other fantasy books. And while it’s exciting to see such a well-realized African-inspired setting, it’s important to remember that there are some really great African and African-American speculative fiction stories already out there. Black Leopard, Red Wolf may well spark a renewed interest in books like this (and I sincerely hope it does), but it would be insulting to suggest that it’s the first book of its kind.To wrap this up… if you like the idea of a grimdark fantasy book with an African-inspired setting and a literary style, and you aren’t turned away by some of the content warnings in the above review, then Black Leopard, Red Wolf might be the book you’re looking for.I received an advanced proof copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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  • Will
    January 1, 1970
    I would like to thank GR giveaways and Riverhead Books for this ARC. You made me very happy and several of my GR friends envious. I wish I could pass my copy on to all of them.A new Marlon James! Yes, yes. I am a huge fan of James and was thrilled when the publication of a new novel was announced. Not only am I fan of his work, but I was lucky enough to attend a very special author event at Harvard where I found him so smart, so funny and so likeable that my respect and admiration only increased I would like to thank GR giveaways and Riverhead Books for this ARC. You made me very happy and several of my GR friends envious. I wish I could pass my copy on to all of them.A new Marlon James! Yes, yes. I am a huge fan of James and was thrilled when the publication of a new novel was announced. Not only am I fan of his work, but I was lucky enough to attend a very special author event at Harvard where I found him so smart, so funny and so likeable that my respect and admiration only increased. I knew that this novel was a fantasy and, to be honest, I am not a fan of the genre, but I thought: ‘this is Marlon James writing, this will be so good that it will override my usual dislike of the genre’. Well…mostly true. I had read it described as an African Game of Thrones and thought, again, ‘well I really like Game of Thrones’ (the TV series, I haven’t read the Martin books) and, although some might find a comparison there, I did not and was disappointed. I thought it more like Tolkien, but since I don’t read fantasy it is silly for me to offer up any valid comparisons and, well, I hated The Hobbit, the only Tolkien I’ve read. That doesn’t make for a good comparison, does it? Whatever comparisons one might choose to make, James has also created something different and original. He doesn’t exactly turn the fantasy novel upside down, but he certainly knocks it on its side. There are all the elements one might associate with the genre – an arduous journey, fantastical settings, magical creatures, monstrous creatures, witches, bloody battles, etc. That felt traditional to me but that is where the traditional ends. Here is a fantasy that is set in Africa or a 'fantasy-Africa' with major characters whose race and sexual identity I assume are rarely, if ever, depicted in other works of the genre – two very major game-changers. So...it is established that I’m not a big fan of the fantasy novel and I should get around to what I thought of it all and why my high rating. The rating I’ve given was hard earned and not without some internal conflict. The novel was a bit of a tough go for me initially. Here were all the fantasy elements that don’t appeal to me and I was worried. I wasn’t hating it, but I also wasn’t loving it either and I wanted to love it. I had spent a long time in anticipation and with high expectations. It was a slow fitful start, but gradually this changed. I decided to just ‘go with it’ or, more probably, James managed to not only captivate me with his story, but win me over with the emotional elements, particularly the themes of love that are explored. James had things to say beyond the action, beyond the magical creatures (which is not to imply other fantasy novels don’t). Finally, I was loving it. That is not to say that I’m ready to call this a perfect novel or that I don’t feel there aren’t a few small missteps. I was torn between 4 and 5 stars. I wasn’t going lower than 4; it was too good. I went with 5 stars (4.5 rounded up) because I believe James has done something different with the fantasy novel and I believe that, overall, he did it exceptionally well (don’t think that my being a big fan didn’t play into my rating too - I must be honest). James has created a world and characters that upend the norms of the genre while also staying true to it. He even left me reconsidering if I just might not want to try another fantasy novel. That is quite the feat. I’ll certainly be reading the next two of the trilogy. Now I offer up my ‘jacket blurb superlatives’: The novel is beautifully written and fast-paced. Highly entertaining, a real page-turner. Masterful story-telling. Epic, filled with twists and turns, love and betrayal. The main character and narrator, Tracker, is complex and richly conceived and the majority of the other characters are equally well developed. The dialogue is witty and caustic and a delight. There are only a few GR reviews available as I write this, mostly positive if not downright raves, but I’m interested in how this novel will be received when available to everyone - James fans, fantasy fans, and non-fantasy fans, the critics... I look forward to that time and, most importantly, to what my GR friends will think. About midway through my reading I received a blog post from Louise Erdrich (another author I love and respect). She only wrote one line regarding this book but I have to steal/quote it: it is a whirlwind fantasy, violently strange, gorgeous, outrageous, brutal, slippery, and even funny. Yes, all of those things – a much better and concise description than I can offer up in this long review. Listen to her.
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  • wanderer (Para)
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book from the publisher (Riverhead Books) on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.This has been one of the most hyped and anticipated fantasy releases of 2019. Literary fantasy set in Africa? Yes please. I wanted it so much and couldn’t believe my luck getting an early copy. The first few pages were wonderful. But, ultimately, as a long-time fantasy reader, I was left underwhelmed and disappointed. I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women t I received an ARC of this book from the publisher (Riverhead Books) on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.This has been one of the most hyped and anticipated fantasy releases of 2019. Literary fantasy set in Africa? Yes please. I wanted it so much and couldn’t believe my luck getting an early copy. The first few pages were wonderful. But, ultimately, as a long-time fantasy reader, I was left underwhelmed and disappointed. I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women too. There were men wiser, and women too. There were men quicker, and women too. There was always someone or some two or some three who will grab me like a stick and break me, grab me like wet cloth, and wring everything out of me. And that was just the way of the world. That was the way of everybody’s world. I who thought he had his hatchets and his cunning, will one day be grabbed and tossed and thrown in with garbage, and beaten and destroyed. I am the one who will need saving, and it’s not that someone will come and save me, or that nobody will, but that I will need saving, and walking forth in the world in the shape and step of a man meant nothing. (quote taken from the ARC, subject to change upon publication)The worldbuilding is, without a question, amazing and seems well-researched. The tribes kingdoms, different mythological creatures…it definitely stands out in the sea of mostly European-inspired fantasy. Anyone looking for African-inspired specifically, for non-standard, or for books with a cast that includes multiple gay (and bisexual?) men will likely find it a treat.The prose, no complaints there either. It’s somewhat dense, stylistic, and requires slower reading, but to me, that’s not unexpected with epic fantasy, so it didn’t bother me. The perspective is first person throughout, with a framing device of the protagonist, Tracker, telling the story of the search for the lost child to an unknown inquisitor. This works rather well, and the ending is conclusive to the point of making me wonder if the sequel will switch to a different character, different style.But while the book tries to combine litfic and fantasy, it doesn’t really succeed as either. The pacing is disjointed and uneven – there were a few chapters I enjoyed and couldn’t put down, but a lot of the time, it dragged. The quest itself doesn’t start until nearly a third in, it generally meanders, and especially near the ending, the pacing was a mess. It’s batshit, and while I usually use “what the fuck did I just read” as a positive descriptor, I’m not so sure here. The main plot twist was very predictable – odd in a book that otherwise doesn’t as much defy as ignore convention – and the secondary characters flat.Tracker himself reminds me somewhat of Karsa from The Malazan Book of the Fallen, with a similar immunity to magic and a similar arrogant attitude, with the addition of mouthing off at people and disliking it when they fire back. And a dash of misogyny (if it helps, he is eventually called out on that, multiple times). All of this did not exactly endear him to me. I liked that he was a clearly unreliable narrator, narration filtered through and coloured by someone’s subjective perception rather than having a glass window of a protagonist is always interesting, but Tracker’s simply not very likable, and his motivations seemed unclear. For most of the book, it seems he decided to go on the quest and did the things he did just because. Because he had nothing better to do, because the plot required it, because why the hell not. It does turn out it’s not quite so eventually, but it’s quite hard to see and never really spelled out.Part of why I didn’t like it is entirely a matter of taste, too: I dislike dark books. And this is probably one of the darkest books I read, both in terms of bleakness and violence. The world is quite a shit place, especially for women – the book is very male-oriented, there aren’t many female characters in the first place…and it took quite a long time before a woman who wasn’t beaten or raped or killed appeared – though the male characters don’t exactly have it easy either. People die early and marry young. There’s a lot of what I can only describe as “weird sex” if I want to avoid spoilers, a few very disturbing scenes, rape, gang rape, borderline bestiality, murder, graphic violence of all kinds, and I wasn’t aware what exactly I’m getting into, so it took me a bit by surprise. It’s not entirely humourless, there were moments where I had to laugh out loud as well, but the general impression is far from sunny.Will it one-handedly save the fantasy genre as some other early reviewers say? Honestly, no. Apart from the setting and the style, it falls apart in too many places and never quite reaches its potential. Neither is it the first book of its kind. But 1) if it leads to more African-inspired fantasy, all the better, and 2) if you like grimdark, unreliable narrator, and have a good stomach, it could be worth a try. Maybe.Enjoyment: 3/5Execution: 3.5/5Recommended to: grimdark fans, literary fantasy fans, those looking for original settings…but mostly to grimdark fansNot recommended to: those who want likable protagonists and female characters, anyone looking for a smooth read, content warning: everything from rape to abuse to kind of bestiality to scenes involving parasites, etc.More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
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  • Chris Morgan
    January 1, 1970
    I really, really, really wanted to like this. At first I was deeply engrossed, but within the span of fifty pages, I had all but zoned out. The stream-of-consciousness style of writing with an overuse of pronouns over names, stop-start stacatto style sentences and abundance of coarse sex just rubbed me wrong. The setting is rich, but almost glossed over. Characters are archetypal and dialogue is often a tedious back and forth of riddles where nothing makes sense. James frequently uses peusdo-dee I really, really, really wanted to like this. At first I was deeply engrossed, but within the span of fifty pages, I had all but zoned out. The stream-of-consciousness style of writing with an overuse of pronouns over names, stop-start stacatto style sentences and abundance of coarse sex just rubbed me wrong. The setting is rich, but almost glossed over. Characters are archetypal and dialogue is often a tedious back and forth of riddles where nothing makes sense. James frequently uses peusdo-deepness for borderline nonsense - "My father is not my father, but he is my father" or "The trees were not trees, but they were trees", causing readers of "literatary" figures to gather round for a collective circle-jerk over the "boldness" and "voice" James employs. If you're aiming for incoherence, praise be. If you came seeking the author's own misnomer marketing of "the African Game of Thrones", expect confusion, disappointment and pretense. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is like literary modern art; everyone pretends to understand and indulges the collective dillusion, because one feels that not doing so would be impolite. I am desperately seeking strong African-themed fantasy, a much under-represented subgenre, but this is decidedly not it.
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  • Bara
    January 1, 1970
    January 2017Please, don't be one of those books that sound absolutely awesome but turns out to be dull. Please.***August 2018It has a cover now? Pretty. I'm intrigued.***December 2018Added summary and release day - it will come out in February 2019. That's sooner than expected. James is no Martin.***February 2019Well, it's out. "And mostly it was just looking for a rocking story. Let’s not forget all the simple pleasures of reading about witches and monsters and fairies and goblins. Dashing knig January 2017Please, don't be one of those books that sound absolutely awesome but turns out to be dull. Please.***August 2018It has a cover now? Pretty. I'm intrigued.***December 2018Added summary and release day - it will come out in February 2019. That's sooner than expected. James is no Martin.***February 2019Well, it's out. "And mostly it was just looking for a rocking story. Let’s not forget all the simple pleasures of reading about witches and monsters and fairies and goblins. Dashing knights and royal families. We all like a saga, and I think part of this was me looking for sagas." says Marlon James himself about his book.New mythology to explore and the author wants to tell first and foremost an engaging story. Sounds good.Addendum: I had the idea when reading the word saga but people out there are really comparing this novel to epic fantasy colossi like Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings. He did won a Manbooker prize so he can write but that is a high praise. Color me amazed.
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  • Billie
    January 1, 1970
    That was...a lot. It took me a week to get through and, even at more than 600 pages, it shouldn't have taken that long. It was very much not for me. I want books to barrel along, to compel me to keep reading and this one just didn't. It was good and will probably work excellently well for a lot of readers. I, sadly, was just not one of those readers, much as I wanted to be.
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  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    You, with your eye of a dog, me with my eyes of a cat. We are quite the pair, are we not, Tracker? One of the things I most admired about Marlon James' Man Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings was how authentic every shifting voice was – each section could have been written by a different author. Now with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, James has given us something totally different once again: a Tolkeinesque epic fantasy set amongst the kingdoms of precolonised sub-Saharan Africa, complet You, with your eye of a dog, me with my eyes of a cat. We are quite the pair, are we not, Tracker? One of the things I most admired about Marlon James' Man Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings was how authentic every shifting voice was – each section could have been written by a different author. Now with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, James has given us something totally different once again: a Tolkeinesque epic fantasy set amongst the kingdoms of precolonised sub-Saharan Africa, complete with that continent's diverse folklore, monsters, and politics. In this interview James explains the inspiration for and beginnings of what will eventually become The Dark Star Trilogy, and the idea of bringing traditional African stories and storytelling into the Fantasy mainstream seems a natural and overdue project. This was maybe too long for me (but should one really complain about an epic stretching to epic length?), and it felt a bit anachronistic for characters to focus so much on feminism, gender and sexual diversity (but I acknowledge that bringing these themes into the mainstream is overdue as well), but at its core, this is a compelling and surprising quest tale that immersed me in a world I knew very little about. I would definitely pick up the next volume in the trilogy. (Note: I was fortunate to receive an ARC and the quotes here may not be in their final forms.) The child is dead, what is left to know? Truth? Is truth only one thing in the South? Facts carry no color or shape, facts are just facts...So let me give you a story. Hear me tell you that I am just a man, whom some have called a wolf, and others worse. Did the old woman bring you different news? I know you have spoken to her. A soothsayer said the child's head was infested with devils. It was no devil, it was bad blood. I can describe his death. In its framing device, Black Leopard, Red Wolf opens with the main character – known only as Tracker – answering questions from an inquisitor (known also as the fetish priest) in a prison in the Southern Kingdom. Tracker's is the only voice we hear (although he does sometimes repeat the inquisitor's questions), and so what follows has more the feel of traditional oral storytelling than a written history. We immediately learn that Tracker had been one of a small group of mercenaries hired to find a child who had gone missing years before, and before the time of his capture, Tracker had witnessed this child's death. Starting somewhere in the middle of the tale, Tracker will eventually describe his childhood, his early friendship with a leopard who can shapeshift into a man, his uncanny ability to follow a person's scent across time and space, and his fantastical experiences with vampires, trolls, ogres, and witches in pursuit of the missing boy. Tracker often tells the inquisitor that he won't recount the story as expected, but in the end, he answers every question; tells every story of his life. (It was interesting for me to learn from that interview with James that the next volume will be the same quest told from the point-of-view of another of the captured mercenaries and that her first words will be, “Everything you read before is not true.”) And that is all and all is truth, great inquisitor. You wanted a tale, did you not? From the dawn of it to the dusk of it, and such is the tale I have given you. You said you wanted testimony, but you wanted story, is it not true? Now you sound like men I have heard of, men coming from the West because they have heard of slave flesh, men who ask, Is this true? When we find this, shall we seek no more? It is truth as you call it, truth in entire? What is truth when it always expands and shrinks? Truth is just another story. In addition to bringing to life so many fantastical creatures, James fills this story with grit and gore. Killings are frequent, brutal, and graphically described. Tracker loses some of his companions along the way (and I had to wonder if some of the tension of peril is lost when the main character is recounting the story after the fact; we know he survives), and some of these losses are heart-wrenching. There are also plenty of graphic (mostly male on male) sex scenes, and these range from aggressively playful to touching. And in addition to a mostly combative tone throughout the tales, there is also much clever and funny repartee (especially between Tracker and Leopard). With frequent shifts in chronology, subject matter, and tone, this novel reads more like The Arabian Nights than a straight narrative, but it all serves the greater story very well: even with magic, epic fighting skills, and the aid of godlike creatures, the affairs of men are brutish and banal: Maybe this was how all stories end, the ones with true women and men, true bodies falling into wounding and death, and with real blood spilled. And maybe this was why the great stories we told are so different. Because we tell stories to live, and that sort of story needs a purpose, so that sort of story must be a lie. Because at the end of a true story, there is nothing but waste. Like with The Lord of the Rings, the quest in this book serves a larger political structure, and it is useful to be reminded that Africa knew great civilisations, kingdoms and citystates long before the Europeans came along. But like I said before, while I do appreciate the diversity of the characters, it felt a little overt to have all the main characters be gay men (Tracker himself, being uncircumsised, is sort of nonbinary) and for the women to all decry the patriarchy in a way that felt too modern for me: Men and their cursed arrogance. You curse, you shit, you wail, you beat women. But all you really do is take up space. As men always do, they cannot help themselves. It why they must spread their legs when they sit. Overall, however, this is a truly epic novel. I reckon it will take some years for James to complete the trilogy, but I'll be looking for it.
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  • PorshaJo
    January 1, 1970
    OK, I'm done with this one. I tried. Adding to my DNF pile, not to be revisited. I tried the audio. I love accents and this one was a heavy accent that required a lot of concentration on my part...and constant rewinding. I also had the print which I frequently had to use when I was confused. But it seemed I was more confused reading this one than I wanted to be. It's also very, very graphic. I'm not a prude but it just seemed to me a lot was unnecessary. I was so excited for this one but I've ma OK, I'm done with this one. I tried. Adding to my DNF pile, not to be revisited. I tried the audio. I love accents and this one was a heavy accent that required a lot of concentration on my part...and constant rewinding. I also had the print which I frequently had to use when I was confused. But it seemed I was more confused reading this one than I wanted to be. It's also very, very graphic. I'm not a prude but it just seemed to me a lot was unnecessary. I was so excited for this one but I've made myself a rule....don't spend your time on reading books you don't like.
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Review soon.
  • Lauren (The Novel Lush)
    January 1, 1970
    I..am going to have to work on my review for this one. It's going to take some serious contemplation because my thoughts are all over the place
  • Bethany
    January 1, 1970
    Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a new fantasy series by Marlon James. It is a dark, gritty fantasy set in an ancient, mythological Africa. Loosely, it is the story that Tracker tells about his life and about what happens when he is asked to locate a missing child. It is being billed as an "African Game of Thrones" and while I kind of see the connection in the later part of the book, I'm not sure it's a very helpful comparison. Fair warning- this will be one of my longer reviews and so I Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a new fantasy series by Marlon James. It is a dark, gritty fantasy set in an ancient, mythological Africa. Loosely, it is the story that Tracker tells about his life and about what happens when he is asked to locate a missing child. It is being billed as an "African Game of Thrones" and while I kind of see the connection in the later part of the book, I'm not sure it's a very helpful comparison. Fair warning- this will be one of my longer reviews and so I am breaking it up into sections. CONTENTThis is a much darker tale with a major theme of illuminating the violence enacted on the bodies of those without power. This can and should be defined in a multitude of ways, all of them brutal, raw, but also important. This includes rape, slavery, female genital mutilation, torture, dismemberment, the killing of children and infants, mistreatment of gay men, forced marriage, sexual abuse of children and more. For this and other reasons, this is a book that I suspect will get a lot of well-deserved attention and praise, but it is definitely NOT going to be the book for everyone. While I think this is an important and well-executed book, the reader should be aware of what they are picking up because the author does not shy away from the gruesome reality of violence.It is also important to know that this is a book written by a gay man about a main character who is also a gay man, and that framework features heavily in the story. Part 1 of the book is largely the coming of age and sexual awakening of our main character Tracker and throughout the book we see various kinds of homophobic prejudice as well as different relationships he and those around him enter into, sexual and otherwise. And in all things this book is quite explicit- be it sex, profanity, crude humor, or violence, there is plenty of it and it is graphic. I do think this book offers a unique and important perspective but again, this may not be the right book for everyone.STRUCTURE & PACINGThe book is divided into several parts and covers a lot of ground. Tracker is in prison being interrogated and is telling his story. Stylistically, the first half of the book feels quite different from the second half. As I stated earlier, the first section is really just backstory on Tracker from the time that he leaves home as a young teen. The first half of the book is VERY dark and the difficult to read material feels nearly constant. It also follows a non-linear pattern of storytelling which can make it a bit slower to get through. And this can get quite meta, since our MC is telling the story to an interrogator and in the story he might be telling a story to another character and then divert to yet another mythological tale WITHIN that story! At the same time, despite the length of this tome, very little feels like throwaway additive. Everything is meaningful, either to the plot, world-building, character development, or making a point about one of the major themes. So you really have to pay attention.The second half of the book still has plenty of dark material in it, but with some breaks for lighter moments. It also tends to follow a more linear plot structure and (in my opinion) is when the plot element of the story really gets interesting. Because of that, it is much more engrossing and easier to read.THEMESSo this is where I think Black Leopard, Red Wolf really does something significant. It offers an intersectional look at race and gender and manages to brilliantly tackle a number of heavy themes. Like I said, a consistent thread you see running throughout is violence enacted on bodies by those with power. And interestingly, in the character of Sadogo, we also see this intersect with toxic ideas of masculinity when large, strong men are expected to be violent, dumb brutes and are not allowed to become anything else. This is the perfect example of a gentle soul being forced to enact violence and the damage that can do. Violence takes many forms throughout the book and is experienced by men, women, and children, but can also be enacted by or abetted by men, women, and children in positions of power. There is a queen who rapes men and we get a fantastic yet brief discussion of the fact that male physical response to sexual stimuli is NOT the same thing as consent. (in this same story we get a reversed look at the problem of exoticizing skin color) And while the author and the main character are both male, there was clearly a great deal of thought put into unpacking how women are subject to systems of violence and oppression in ways that men are not, even men who face oppression on other fronts. While this book is quite dark, the one bright spot is this theme of growth in the MC who starts out being solitary and unconnected to people or things as he learns that love is valuable, even with the possibility of loss. CONCLUSIONTruthfully, much of this book was not enjoyable to read. It was difficult, as it should have been. Despite that, it is a brilliant and important work that illuminates issues that must see the light of day. It also deftly weaves together ancient African mythology and culture with imaginative and fully-fleshed out world-building, and demonstrates an impactful arc of character development. I suspect it will be one of the biggest books of the year and it is well worth reading if the content isn't a problem for the reader. I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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  • Simone
    January 1, 1970
    I finally finished BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF. Took me over a week to do it and I’ll be honest, I skimmed the last 100 pages.Im a little gun shy about reviewing it. In the end, I realized I’m not a fan of Marlon James’s writing style. The story should have ended around the 400 page mark and there’s too many lulls where I was kinda...bored. The language was kind of circular and the intentionally bad grammar really bugged me.HOWEVER, I gave it three stars because the story itself is super tight, well I finally finished BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF. Took me over a week to do it and I’ll be honest, I skimmed the last 100 pages.Im a little gun shy about reviewing it. In the end, I realized I’m not a fan of Marlon James’s writing style. The story should have ended around the 400 page mark and there’s too many lulls where I was kinda...bored. The language was kind of circular and the intentionally bad grammar really bugged me.HOWEVER, I gave it three stars because the story itself is super tight, well described, and the action/adventure is enough to push you along. I absolutely loved his use of African history and mythology (from all over Africa). I googled A LOT of things. I felt a lot for the characters. There’s themes of gender identity, LGBTQ, the “measure of a man”, emotionally fueled battles, slavery, the color of your skin, the frustrations with politics, and family. Tracker isn’t just a bloodthirsty hunter only looking to find a boy and make his money. He’s looking to save children from a world that wants to buy, sell, destroy, and alienate them.The best part has got to be the use of African mythology and history. You can google pretty much any of the monsters and words used and find out they come from somewhere in Africa. And when I say somewhere, I mean everywhere. From the northern borders to the south. From east to west, this book is a historical and mythological journey across a country I know nothing about. this book makes me want to learn more. And what I love about it is that it’s not your typical fantasy with lovelorn faeries and princes with magical powers. This book is on-the-ground, blood driven, mad, and maniacal. Gosh, there’s legit so much potential in this story. SO MUCH! You can’t compare this book to Game of Thrones. This is so much more than that silly story. I’m just not a fan of writing like this which makes it tough to enjoy. I hate it when technical aspects of storytelling take away from my experience. Personally, I won’t be reading the rest of this series. But I strongly encourage all fantasy folks to read this one and just fall in love with a world so brilliantly built and described. Fall in love with Tracker and his experiences. Hope for the best in his endeavors as noble as they can be. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever read or imagined and the world itself is a cutthroat existence where you’ll never know which side is the right one. I received a copy of this book from Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    So excited that this was released today! My TBR plans are going to be messed up this month because something is getting pushed to the side to make way for this!
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