Black Leopard, Red Wolf
BookPage starred review, February 2019
A novel that truly defies all efforts of categorization is a rare thing. When his Dark Star Trilogy was announced, Marlon James’ new genre endeavor was dubbed a kind of “African Game of Thrones,” an epic saga that merged history and fantasy into something new. The first volume in the trilogy—Black Leopard, Red Wolf—has arrived, and even that rather enticing description doesn’t do it justice. James has once again delivered something that must be read to be believed, a majestic novel full of unforgettable characters, gorgeous prose and vivid adventures.
Tracker, James’ narrator, is a man without a true name, a man who seems to walk in the margins of society after a difficult childhood turned him into a loner. Still, he is renowned for his “nose,” the ability to search for and find lost things with uncanny skill, and so he is called into service to search for a vanished boy. To find the boy, he must also attempt a rare collaboration, teaming up with a strange band of characters, among them a shapeshifter known as Leopard. As the hunt begins and Tracker tells his tale, he must explore not only the significance of the boy he’s searching for but also the nature of truth itself.
Tracker’s voice—rendered in visceral, evocative prose—is immediately seductive, from his colorful use of profanity to the way he describes not just what happens to him but also how the perception of it all can shift in a moment. It’s the kind of voice that can carry you anywhere, and James puts it to good use, propelling the reader forward into an African fantasy landscape that rivals the greatest sword-and-sorcery storytellers in the history of the genre. The ambition is familiar, but the places James takes us are not, and that’s an irresistible combination.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf heralds the arrival of one of fantasy’s next great sagas and reaffirms James as one of the greatest storytellers of his generation.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.