Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy)

by Marlon James

Hardcover, 2019

Call number

SPEC FICT JAM

Publication

Riverhead Books (2019), Edition: 1st Edition, 640 pages

Description

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD The New York Times Bestseller Named a Best Book of 2019 by The Wall Street Journal, TIME, NPR, GQ, Vogue, and The Washington Post "A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made." —Neil Gaiman "Gripping, action-packed....The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times The epic novel, an African Game of Thrones , from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings In the stunning first novel in Marlon James's Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child. 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 novel unlike anything that's come before it: 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 truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.… (more)

Media reviews

... that’s only one example of the many ways in which James’s densely realized epic works to expand the possibilities of the form – the characters not only have desires and act on them, but grapple with problems of identity, duty, loyalty, and their own complicated motivations; at some points, Tracker’s growing rage is such that he says he’s ready to “murder the world;” at others, he acts like a more conventional hero, valuing honor over rewards. With hints of an impending war between the north and the south, and oblique references to lands across the sea, James leaves himself plenty of room for the subsequent vol­umes, and if they match the furious richness and depth of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, they may complete one of the most important and innovative fantasy epics of the century so far.
10 more
In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, a story’s truth is not measured by how accurately it strives toward representing an objective reality. Rather, truth manifests in a story’s failure: as part of a world, made up of nothing but stories, that is bound to the imperfection of story. At the end of such a story, no truth, simple or otherwise, remains — only the story.
It is also welcome to experience a fantasy world that is derived from Africa, with a narrator who is explicitly gay. Tracker is a very human and fallible character, and often very frustrating, but by the end my heart broke with him. I don’t know if the promised sequels will follow Tracker or another character in the same world, but this book feels like a complete story in and of itself – there are no George R.R. Martin cliffhangers here. I highly recommend this book for all adult fiction collections.
If James could go easier on the bloodletting and muscle-bound prose, choose subtlety and sensuousness over teenage-testosterone swagger, there’s still time for him to queer rather than pastiche the franchise fare he’s avariciously eyeing.
To read A Brief History of Seven Killings is to feel Kingston assembling itself in James’ mind through the voices and stories of his characters, in much the same way that he constructs the nameless land of Tracker’s birth, a place that is and also isn’t Africa. It may not be real, but listen long enough and you’ll believe in it, too.
...it's horror and tragedy by way of fantasy, nothing discrete, everything penetrating everything else.
It’s in the last section of the novel that the scars of Tracker’s childhood come together with the story of the missing boy in a shocking and heartbreaking melding of strands — and that’s when Black Leopard Red Wolf became unputdownable for me. But there were so so many pages to get through before that.
It is a history and a world richly and hauntingly imagined. "I made up a language in which to exist," the poet Elizabeth Alexander once said. Here, Marlon James takes that framing a step further. By offering us a shaky version of the truth, he suggests that our trust in traditional narratives may have been misplaced all along.
(BLRW is the first in a series of three planned installments, by the way, and you could not ask for a better, more tantalizing franchise firestarter.) Yet the author never makes you sense he’s come anywhere near the limits of where he can take this conflicted hunter, those creatures or the kingdoms that Tracker and Co. violently slash through. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a claim-staking move, a saga worth its weight in Frank Frazetta paintings and a chance for the writer to leave his mark on a sword-and-sorcery template not usually associated with Man Booker Prize winners. The well of James’ imagination here feels virtually bottomless. You put it down word-drunk yet somehow thirsty for more.
As a weary and jaded reader of heroic fantasy and swords and sorcery — who during my teen years created terrible pastiches of Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia McKillip and Leiber — I can honestly say that James has created a novel and a world that is both fresh and beautifully realized and written. Whether this is innovation or renovation, I don’t know for sure. All I know is I loved it.
But James’ sensual, beautifully rendered prose and sweeping, precisely detailed narrative cast their own transfixing spell upon the reader. He not only brings a fresh multicultural perspective to a grand fantasy subgenre, but also broadens the genre’s psychological and metaphysical possibilities.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Crazymamie
This book has been getting a lot of buzz, and I am feeling slightly sorry for Marlon James because, really, how you can possibly live up to all that hype. It's a bit of a burden. And while describing it as "an African Game of Thrones" is sure to make loads of readers pick up the book, in the end, what will keep them reading is the fabulous writing and the intricate world-building. It is so NOT an African Game of Thrones. It stands on its own, and while there are some minor quibbles with the story, it is fully imagined and vibrant. The story arc is complex, and the time line is often hard to follow, with stories folded together like a beautiful origami creation - each story, each fold working to create the finished product, which is breath-taking. It is bold and dark and disturbing. So what are my quibbles? It is perhaps too long - there is a lot to take in here, and I think it could have lost about 100 pages and still been brilliant. And the narrative is hard to follow in places - exactly who is speaking becomes blurred, and the reader is forced to reread the passage to decipher the conversation. Still, it is worth the extra effort.

I listened to the audiobook while following along on Kindle, and this was a perfect combo for me. The narrator, Dion Graham, is very talented and delivers the story perfectly, but the constantly changing time line makes following it on audio problematic. Also, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and seeing their names in print helped to solidify them for me, especially where the names were similar. The first part of the book is more difficult, I thought, but then it settles into its own rhythm, and you can sit back and enjoy the ride. And buckle up because it's going to really take off - the pace is fast and furious in places. There is anger here, and violence that will make your head snap back. It is almost too descriptive. It gets under your skin, and I think that is intentional. Author Louise Erdrich has the best blurb that I have read: “This book begins like a fever dream and merges into world upon world of deadly fairy tales rich with political magic. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a fabulous cascade of storytelling. Sink right in. I guarantee you will be swept downstream.”
… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzer
Finishing BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF is a little like waking up from a horrible nightmare. This novel is filled with extreme violence, most of which is gratuitous. The protagonist/narrator is Tracker, a man whose superpower is "a nose." This means he can follow anyone by their scent. He contracts to find a missing boy and travels through a fictitious kingdom filled with witches, monsters and all kinds of strange things. The plot is thin, rambling, and difficult to follow. Most of the characters, including Tracker, are not very nuanced or even very believable. Based on his previous award winning novel, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," one might expect this to have been a more satisfying read than it turned out to be.… (more)
LibraryThing member angiestahl
Disclaimer: According to my kindle, I hung in for 20% of this and then bailed. YMMV, but this was not my cup o' noodles.

Some history: I really, really want to be into Marlon James, but am now oh-for-two.

I couldn't get A Brief History of Seven Killings to work for me. But then, Black Leopard Red Wolf came along. A book stuffed full of African myths and legends, mysticism and fantasy, "more immersive than Tolkien" was intriguing.

I think it's safe to say this is a dark and raw book with a highly unlikeable narrator. There is a lot of graphic, sex and violence, often together. By a lot, I mean like unavoidable, as in on pretty much every page, and it's just numbing after awhile.

I don't want to ever be numb to sexualized violence for the sake of a 'challenging' story that at its root is supposed to be entertaining.

I've found Marlon James an intriguing author in concept, because he's billed as sort of a complex, challenging genius to high culture critical acclaim. For me, his writing is obtuse, and his stories difficult and dense, which isn't the same thing.

TLDR: Perma-pass.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Is there anything better than anticipation rewarded? Ever since Marlon James hinted, after winning the Booker, that he wanted to play in the fantasy genre, I was anticipating this book. It is everything that I wanted it to be. I am even more pleased, actually surprised, to find this book standing in the Fantasy section of the bookstore instead of with his other work in the mainstream. That's the kind of recognition it took years, decades, for the genre to arrive at - not to mention a brave publisher who must have insisted on this categorization instead of couching its promotion in non-fantasy verbiage, a shell game that fools no one.

For the first two chapters I was worried. Marlon James jumps around in time as he introduces Tracker's framing story, pressing the experimental line. The next couple bring clarity, and after that I got what I came for. You've heard of Afro-Futurism? This is full on Afro-Fantasy. The author bought a truckload of African myths and legends, dumped them out in his yard and sifted through them for the best stuff - or maybe he used all of it? Tracker's world is brimful of bizarre creatures, spirits and spells, all living side by side and taking each others' existence for granted. It's only the young and inexperienced in this story who are surprised by anything they encounter. Me on the other hand, I had no idea what he would be introducing next. Knowing all the while that he wasn't just making it up, that all of this had some basis in actual African legend, gave it more substance and bite than just a tour of one author's wild imagination. If Africa had a fantasy market that started at the same time and paralleled what Tolkien began, suddenly we have this view into where it would be today, like it was never missing.

If it was just inventive world-building, that would not be enough. Tracker is at the centre of the story, and he's one of the most deeply drawn characters I've seen in a fantasy novel. Severian of Gene Wolfe's New Sun books is the only one who readily comes to mind that compares. The various others he travels with are also given time and attention, with scarcely anyone being mentioned who doesn't then have a backstory provided. Dialogue is brilliant and quotable. James makes good use of his map; there's no starting point in this corner, ending point in that opposite corner. Throughout the book we are jumping around, or taking voyages through random swathes, with references to more beyond the borders. The narrative is largely chronological, guided by the framing tale, but there are also some fantastic nested stories, tales about people who are telling tales about other people. James proves himself a master at avoiding the 'infodump' problem, providing information at the most appropriate time when it's needed, but holding back anything that will have greater impact later in its proper place. No one will ever say this novel could use more action. The only thing I can fault him for is missing dialogue tags in rapid fire conversations, where I think even he lost track of who was speaking a couple of times.

A couple of cautions: the degree of violence is perhaps the one thing this has in common with Game of Thrones, and there's scarcely a page lacking a sexual reference. Hopefully that doesn't hold you back. I've yet to read the titanic force that is N.K. Jamieson, but Marlon James has at least contributed toward the beginning of another new era in fantasy fiction. If his world does not get a Hugo nomination, there is something wrong with ours.
… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a fantasy trilogy by Marlon James. But to call this a fantasy novel is misleading, it is that, but it's also a literary novel and a novel that revels in being labyrinthine and in upending many of the fantasy tropes it makes reference to.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is told from the point of view of Tracker, the red wolf of the title, a man who can follow people by their scent, no matter how far away they are or how old the scent. He becomes part of a group hired to find a boy kidnapped three years earlier, brought in by his friend (if Tracker can be said to have friends) a were-leopard. But what appears to be the standard set up of a group of mis-matched outsiders going on a quest together is set on its head almost immediately. What follows, and what precedes this beginning, is confusing, maddening, explicitly violent and outrageously imaginative.

This novel is based in an African past much like how countless fantasy novels are based in a sort of medieval Europe, and there are clear references to classic fantasy novels. Here, Tolkien's Lothlorien is reimagined in a horrifying way, faithful companions are as trustworthy as strangers and the very thing these companions are searching for may not be what it seems. I very much loved the sad, yet murderous giant (who gets angry at being called a giant), the wise buffalo, and an odd group of abandoned children who find refuge together.

James has stated that each book of the trilogy will be told from the point of view of a different character, so the picture created by Tracker is frustratingly incomplete. Despite my lack of interest in this genre and utter boredom with battles and magical creatures, I suspect I'll be reading the next books in the trilogy just to see how James fits the stories of the other characters together to build a complete tale.… (more)
LibraryThing member readingover50
I received a newsletter from the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. One of the hilited books of the month was Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Based on the small blurb about the book I thought it sounded interesting so I purchased it.

After I bought the book, I kept seeing more and more blurbs and review about it on social media. Apparently I bought a book that had a lot of media buzz going for it. So I eagerly started reading.

Right from the start I realized what an incoherent mess of a book this is. None of the characters are likable. No one can just have a conversation. Every verbal exchange is a volly of insults and threats. Wading through these to find an ounce of meaning is exhausting.

The book is divided into 6 sections. Section one was terrible. Sections 2 and 3 began to get interesting. Section 4 was by far the best section for me. I loved the description of the city in the trees, and all it's wonders and horrors. Section 5 and 6 were back to terrible and incomprehensible. Although I wanted to finish the book, by the last 10 pages I was begging for it to be over.

Yes there is plenty of sex and violence in this book. That did not bother me at all. It was the way in which the story was told. If we had a character to root for, maybe it would have been better, but I don't think so. Leave out all the circular arguments and insults and the story would be much shorter and much better.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Adilinaria
Might change to a 5, we'll see how it sits long run.
I would say don't read this if you are super sensitive to any and all dark themes in your stories. Just blanket statement for all of them, because they're in here. Don't say I didn't warn you.
I heard this pitched as 'African Game of Thrones' and really that's a terrible way to sell this. Everything about this is different from GoT (and better in my opinion). I don't know that I can describe it adequately or in any succinct way. So, I great enjoyed this. It has the bones of a traditional quest story line, but it was done so well it felt elevated and past that. It won't be for everyone, I promise you that. But I enjoyed it immensely.… (more)
LibraryThing member quondame
I didn't like this book, but then it wasn't written for me. The landscape through which the protagonist, the Tracker/Red Wolf moves are not the least appealing, being more dangerous than Australia at it's worst, or attractive. The mechanism used to jump long distances is neither explained nor consistent - 19 paired gates, really? (an unnumbered one is off the map, but all must be used before any can be re-used). Tracker works through smell, but rarely smells anything I'd want described. Still it's readable, different, interesting from time to time, until the last section which is all revenge for death of family, as if no other motivation could have Tracker moving again. The songs were the best part.… (more)
LibraryThing member jnwelch
Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in an African fantasy trilogy by gifted Marlon James, the author of A Brief History of Seven Killings. I love how African folklore is being used to underpin so many books these days, as European fairy tales have for ages. This book is violent and bloody, and not for the squeamish. But wow, can this guy write. It flows with stories within stories within stories, and his imagination seems sprung from an aquifer as big as the world. The protagonist, Tracker, has a "nose" for hunting down what and who is lost, and a knack for getting out of life-threatening situations. He bonds with the werewolf-ish Black Leopard, who can transform from man to leopard at will, and goes in search of a kidnapped child, whose origins are the subject of continually changing lies.

I love this description of the pre-colonial, African world the author has created, from the NY Times review: it "feels like a place mapped by Gabriel Garcia Lorca and Hieronymous Bosch with an assist from Salvador Dali. It's a magical and sometimes beautiful place . . ." There are all sorts of wild creatures, e.g., winged lightning vampires, "white scientists" who experimentally create nightmarish creatures, shape shifters, and unusually featured children like Giraffe Boy and Smoke Girl, whom Tracker takes under his wing. There also is a fair amount of sex (usually homosexual) and romance (ditto). I'm trying to think how to say this - it's not dwelt on or belabored or described in excessive detail; it's just one more plot element, one more part of Tracker's life, and the lives of other characters.

Some quotes:

"When kings fall they fall on top of us.”

“I am content with much. This world never gives me anything, and yet I have everything I want.”

“He is my friend.” “Nobody ever gets betrayed by their enemy.”

As said in Mamie's excellent review that you can find on the book page, this could've been trimmed by 100 or more pages. But it's hard to quarrel with the flow of James' writing.
… (more)
LibraryThing member readergirliz
I began this book in February, got through 430 pages, then took a 4 month hiatus and finished the remaining 190 pages in July. The storytelling itself is excellent. The world that James writes about is richly imagined and vivid. Many of the characters are very interesting, if not always likeable, and I really liked the verbal sparring. All the trigger warnings for this book: violence, harm to children, all kinds of abuse, sex. Also, the plot dragged for me in places- hence the 6 month read time. I don't know that I would pick up the other two books in the triology once they are published, as this one was a bit uneven for me personally.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
At times, this book reminded me of nothing so much as Amos Tutuola's "The Palm Wine Drinkard" but I am sure many people classify James' novel as fantasy. Well, it is a fantastic book but this book seems more akin to "The Odyssey" than to the Narnia stories or Tolkien. (Tolkien came close but doesn't match the depth of this book as I read the two.) There are fantastic elements: a lost child, a quest, shape-shifters and witches an vampires, all in what seems to be an African context. James is not interested in the fabulous as much as he is interested in the quest, the characters and the conflicts he narrates. Or maybe that was me. A most excellent book!… (more)
LibraryThing member JJKING
I have heard good things about this book. I was very anxious to try it .science fiction is out of my comfort zone but I tried. I got lost. it'll make a great movie and I will go see it but it makes no sense I got lost.
LibraryThing member msf59
“I will give you a story.

It begins with a leopard.

And a witch.”

“The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.”

This kicks off the first of an epic fantasy trilogy by Booker Prize-winning author, Marlon James. It follows the adventures of Tracker, “He has a nose,” a young man, who is engaged to track down a boy, who was kidnapped. He normally works alone but ends up, with a band of misfits, with unusual powers, including the enigmatic Leopard, the shape-shifting creature, that Tracker forms a tumultuous relationship with.
James has done his homework here, weaving African history and mythology, into this beefy narrative, teamed up with his own impressive imagination. There is also excessive violence and profanity, so the reader should keep this in mind. I found it to be unnecessarily verbose at times, meandering, and there is some repetition, but overall this was a promising beginning, by a very fine writer.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ThomasPluck
Brutal and beautiful and compelling and tedious all at once, both hard to read and hard to quit, a world I want to return to someday but not soon.
LibraryThing member gleipnir
Can’t decide if this is 1.5 stars rounded up to 2 or down to 1.

Intriguing concept but shoddy exection. I was so very fond of Mossi and the mingi children (the few moments of tenderness this novel allows the reader) but everything else about this was grotesque and cynical to the point where I was having to psych myself up to finish it. But finish it I did, and I don’t feel like I gained anything from it. My wife DNF’d it at 35%. I perhaps should have followed their lead.… (more)
LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Just didn't dig this. Lost me a few chapters in. I know it's supposed to be great.
LibraryThing member maryreinert
I heard the author interviewed on the NY Times book review pod cast and became interested even though fantasy is not my thing. I really tried, but this book is totally beyond me. I wasn't sure of the characters or even what they were doing. Got to page 70 or so. Couldn't do it.
LibraryThing member Jeeps
DNF'd @ 20%. I wanted so badly to love this; I really tried. Unfortunately I felt like the prose was meant to cover a multitude of sins here, keeping me at arm's length so I didn't notice that character motivation is insubstantial to nonexistent. I never knew what anyone was going to do next, and not in an exciting, plot-driven way (it's a very cerebral, theoretically character-driven novel), but in a way where the groundwork was never set for me to ever really know what they wanted. I think 124 dense pages is more than enough chance to establish that.… (more)
LibraryThing member grouchygrammarian
I think this book is really well written, i honestly do. But i dnf'd around 1/3 of the way. I couldnt see the story progressing. It was alot of the same. Anyway, maybe ill try later, perhaps the timing wasnt quite right.
LibraryThing member SarahRichards
Rating= 3.5

Oof= the expression I used the most while reading.

*Warning* foul language is used to express some of my feelings.

I am unsure how to express how I completely feel about this book. Did it have strong good aspects that made me feel something in this cold dark heart of mine, you bet there was. Was it happy jolly feelings? No. If you are searching for an easy feel-good novel run, run far away because this book is like an alternate reality of hell. This world that Tracker lives in is hell the experiences that many of the characters have faced important and not are atrocious brutal, shocking, and graphic. This is one of the most fucked up books I have ever read I can and will say that.

Personally I respect authors who A. have the ability to write graphically or brutally well B. who have the balls to do so considering not many people have the ability to read dark graphic novels. Big applauds to this. I do feel that as some aspects became common and continuous any shock value got thrown to the winds. Through most of the story I expected the worse and typically got it at the level I expected it was made worse by the vivid descriptions.

The plot was not important it's basically not even there none of the characters gave a shit about the boy they were supposed to find. Some of the descriptive languages used such as describing a wall as a woman tits I found to be unnecessarily. I also, for the most part, didn't give a shit about most of the many shitty characters though I can't say I hated them all. I cared more about the random "people" thrown in to prove how shitty the world was as well as the individuals in it. Women throughout were either complete dickbags or weak/and or severely abused bags of boney corpses.

I loved how the hyena scene fucked me up, I find that most stories that are trying to pull a dark fast one on me fail. I had to put the book down and stare at a wall for a bit though my spidey senses told me to grab a glass of wine for myself as a part of myself knew shit was gonna get real fucked up before it got fucked up.

Fun fact or game I had while reading was to not distinctively react to any of the really "oof" parts when I would read before some of my classes started. I can say for the most part I won as I never noticed anyone give me the "wtf is her problem" look. I would recommend giving that a try if you are thinking of picking up this book.

Overall I didn't hate it but I didn't love it that's all I can really say right now other than I would not recommend this book to most people. I don't think many individuals would have the patience needed to drag their sorry ass through this really overly complexly worded novel. Alas if you are able to you are in for a sickening glass filled chocolate bar treat, devour it up if you dare.

Some of the following are a few trigger warnings if you don't want to go in blind as I did: the rape of humans to humans, animals to humans, sex, assault, human brutality. Honestly so much shitty shit happened I lost count of all the shitty shit. Other reviewers have a better list the only added information I can say is that everything is vividly written. Nothing horrifying is just skimmed over its written in a lot of detail in a way that can be visualized with ease.
… (more)

Pages

640

ISBN

0735220174 / 9780735220171
Page: 0.3116 seconds