Summary and book reviews of Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

The Dark Star Trilogy

by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James X
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 640 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 640 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

ONE

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

I hear there is a queen in the south who kills the man who brings her bad news. So when I give word of the boy's death, do I write my own death with it? Truth eats lies just as the crocodile eats the moon, and yet my witness is the same today as it will be tomorrow. No, I did not kill him. Though I may have wanted him dead. Craved for it the way a glutton craves goat flesh. Oh, to draw a bow and fire it through his black heart and watch it explode black blood, and to watch his eyes for when they stop blinking, when they look but stop seeing, and to listen for his voice croaking and hear his chest heave in a death rattle saying, Look, my wretched spirit leaves this most wretched of bodies, and to smile at such tidings and dance at such a loss. Yes, I glut at the conceit of it. But no, I did not kill him.

Bi oju ri enu a pam o.

Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth.

This cell is larger than the one before. I smell the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Black Leopard, Red Wolf begins as a story told by a prisoner to his jailer. How does this structure inform the reader's experience of the novel?
  2. Over the course of the novel, Tracker reveals a complex family background. How do you think that background affects his relationships with other characters as the story unfolds?
  3. Tracker and Leopard's relationship is at the center of this novel. How would you describe that relationship? Why is it so hard for the two of them to get along for much of the book?
  4. Is Tracker the "hero" in this story? Do you find you trust him as a narrator? And if not, what parts of his tale do you think he might be lying about?
  5. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is populated with a lot of characters, many of them working ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It would be safe to say that Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a most unique novel. Challenging and rewarding, beautiful and grotesque, expansive and deeply personal, this story is a work of high talent. Marlon James has brought us a world unlike any we have ever seen. If you are a reader of literary fantasy, an aficionado of the horror genre, or someone who does not shy away from a difficult read, this book will really hit the spot...continued

Full Review (573 words).

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(Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg).

Media Reviews

Southern Living
An epic fantasy with deep roots in African history and myth... A thrilling story.

New York Times
What propels the novel forward is the same thing that fuels the best superhero movies and comic books: the origin stories of its central characters. We read to find out how Tracker became the Red Wolf and how the Leopard became the Leopard...James has created two compelling and iconic characters — characters who will take their place in the pantheon of memorable and fantastical superheroes.

Entertainment Weekly
James’ visions don’t jettison you from reality so much as they trap you in his mad-genius, mercurial mind...Drenched in African myth and folklore, and set in an astonishingly realized pre-colonized sub-Saharan region, Black Leopard crawls with creatures and erects kingdoms unlike any I’ve read...This is a revolutionary book.

Washington Post
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...Ocean’s Eleven has got nothing on this ensemble.

Booklist
Gender-bending romance, fantastical adventure, and an Afrocentric setting make for an inventive and engaging read.

Publishers Weekly
Though marred by its lack of subtlety, this is nonetheless a work of prodigious imagination capable of entrancing readers.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. If this first volume is any indication, James' trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure epics since George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire was transformed into Game of Thrones.

Author Blurb Neil Gaiman
A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made...It's something very new that feels old, in the best way. I cannot wait for the next installment.

Author Blurb Louise Erdrich
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.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Shape-Shifting Monsters of African Lore

Stories of shapeshifters have permeated literature and art from the beginning of civilization. Therianthropy, or the changing of a human into an animal, is perhaps the most commonly known trope of the shapeshifting genre, with illustrations of such changes dating back all the way to 13,000 BC.

ImpunduluIn his novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James brings together many different therianthropy tropes to create an interesting kaleidoscope of the real and the imagined. The shapeshifters in the story can be heroes or monsters, they are sometimes tragic and sometimes terrifying. Beyond all else, they are rich with symbolism and imagination.

There is the Impundulu, the Lightning Bird, common to Zulu and Xhosa legends. The picture to the right...

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