Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The journey vs the destination? Nope. More like the fruit, the desire, and the throw of the hatchet. Tracker, also known as Red Wolf, is a man with a gift of an almost magical sense of smell. A mercenary of sorts for several years, the bulk of this story is his search for a mysterious missing boy. Through deserts, jungles, cities, and ruins, he picks up clues and of course, scents on the way.

An epic journey in a dark and magical African setting infused with a mythos of gods, karma, and royalty. Every step of the hunt is a test for Tracker, one that will assess his ability to match wits with the powers of the black arts, manipulative lies, and evil inclinations of the other characters. I continually questioned Tracker’s role in every situation and in the broad world in general. Is his reward simply money? Is it power? It is unclear for much of the narrative, but the ending of this book is one that I did not predict in the least.

The challenges of this book come in a shifting timeline, a multitude of characters, a dialect that takes awhile to get used to, and some subject matter that can be quite rough at times. The book starts with a prologue of about 75 pages that tells of Tracker’s initiation to his gifts; the story then jumps forward several years to this pursuit. And the narrative can be confusing as wars and alliances are explained, and character background explicated. And about those characters… there are many, and some spend a lot of time on the page and others only enough to get a spear through the head. It can read as episodic at times, especially when they enter a dwelling to interrogate another witness and the story launches off into a series of interconnected tangents. All body fluids flying in this book: blood, piss, and other unmentionables… It also contains all sorts of graphic violence, sex, and even cannibalism. The book is quite a doorstop, and only through breaking up the reading over the course of many weeks was I able to get through it. You are forewarned!

But I definitely liked it. The last page brought feelings of realization, wonder, and achievement.  With echos of Shakespeare, Achebe, and Tolkien, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a challenge that should be accepted, especially if you want to see the full reach of epic fantasy’s capabilities.

4 out of 5 stars

Releases on Feb 5th.

Thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Books, and Marlon James for the advanced copy for review.

14 thoughts on “Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

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  1. This is my most anticipated read of the year because Marlon James is one of my favorite authors and this is his first fantasy novel. Am glad you liked it but I appreciate the warning. Am a little anxious about reading it because I do hope I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of those books where I think anyone could justify any rating. I’d understand why someone gave it 5 stars- I’d understand why someone DNF’d and gave it 1. We definitely need more books like this in the world regardless (diverse, original perspectives).

    Liked by 1 person

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