Black Leopard and Red Wolf by Marlon James is an African fantasy novel, that explores a lot in it’s text like the topics of homosexuality, skin colorization, hegemony, disabled, incest, and feminism. Marlon James won the prestigious Man Booker Prize Award for his last novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, and this book is heavy on the metaphors and has gems of great dialogue through out. This novel took me two weeks because of the words used and the way that it is told. The story and fantasy elements are really strong. I loved the story for this book so much. The way it is written especially at first is very hard to get into I felt the same way when I tried reading William Faulkner’s Sound and Fury where you have to piece the story from the metaphor. It took be too about page 100 until I was comfortable to read without going back and rereading. I see this book being one read and discussed in college. I usually save trigger warnings for the end but this does have strong uses that could turn readers off so I will mention them here: graphic sex scenes, graphic language, graphic Violence, rape, incest, and sex with animals ( a couple character’s are shape shifters). This is my second African fantasy novel, my first being Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi, which was very different but both were steeped in culture you can feel.
The Plot: e meet the tracker when he is a man imprisoned and telling stories of his past. His first story is how he went to the land of the dead and brought back a king that would rather be dead than married to the queen, and an enemy he brings back still haunts him to this day. The story then goes to when he was a child and finds out about his past and becomes the Tracker. He was always able to find things by sense of smell, and he find out he can see things towns a way. The first place his nose leads him to is his birth place, where he finds about all kinds of legend and meet Leopard a shapeshifter that can change form leopard to man. He protects children that were born deformed called mingi, with a witch Sangoma. The village is raided for fear of plaque and a dry season the witch place a protection on him that and steal weapon will not pierce his skin. The children for the most part survive, and the Tracker and Leopard become their protectors and eventually find them a home. Another tale that takes up most the book is years later where the Tracker is really known for finding people and children is tasked in a fellowship to find a boy. There’s a huge mystery about who this boy is he’s supposed to protect, this fellowship is not like the Fellowship of the ring these are mercenaries that some have a horrible past the tracker wants to kill one member and might not wait until he finds the boy to do it. Leopard is also apart of it but their trust is broken by something. The Tracker will have to find his own demons to find the boy.
What I Liked: The overall story has so many twist, turns, and betrayals. I have read my share of fantasy novels and the story is one of the better ones, you think you can predict where it’s going but you can not. the last 100 pages changes everything. The story arc of Tracker is interesting at the end of the novel he gets some redemption but character went into place I didn’t always like. Sadogo is my favorite character, a gentle half giant now, but once a brutal killer that sometimes still comes out, such a sad backstory, but a great character. The action is written really well. The settings are vidid and show all the different shade of Africa.
What I Disliked: The story was a little long, occasionally it would retell the story adding little extra in it’s retelling, that happened at least five times. I wanted better descriptions of characters, some James did a really good job but others I just couldn’t visualize. The finger in the butt joke was to frequent. I would have been ok with half the sex, I think it was really important when Tracker was finding himself when he was young, but after that I didn’t need all the graphic details.
Recommendations: I know people that will hate this the sex and swearing will turn them off, but the story really is good so if you can get past all the trigger warnings which are again: graphic sex scenes, graphic violence, graphic language, rape, incest, and sex with animals ( a couple character’s are shape shifters) then the book is really well told. This book is very LGTBQ friendly with its characters. I rated this book 4 out of 5 stars. This book is mark as book one of the Dark Star Trilogy I will read the second one for story alone, I might have to block out a time when I can easily consume it.