Book Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
Riverhead Books
2019, 620 Pages, Hardback

FANTASY IS THE genre that allows people to imagine a world without limits, a place to escape. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is Marlon James’ first book of his new Dark Star Trilogy. James’s previous novels called A Brief History Of Seven Killings and John Crow’s Devil, which explore many of the common themes present in this book.  James’ previous novels deal with race, sexuality, religion, violence, and the supernatural; almost all things that would appear controversial or common in today’s social climates.Black Leopard, Red Wolf continues with these topics, but through a series of fantastical tales of beasts and heroes. As a kid, I never really enjoyed these fantasy tales told by the likes of  J. R. R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling. It wasn’t until I read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series that I realized how amazing and detailed these worlds can be. James’ series pulls heavily from the works of these writers, and Martin in particular. Black Leopard, Red Wolf tells the tale of Tracker, a mercenary tasked with finding a missing child. The book takes place in an African dystopia and its rich history and mythology are ever present in Tracker’s adventures.

Tracker is a mercenary known for his (eponymous) tracking abilities–his nose in particular. The book begins when he is tasked with finding a missing boy. Tracker has his own set of rules he lives by– including one that requires him to work alone, but this changes when he comes by a group that includes a shape shifting leopard and a few other equally interesting characters. As Tracker and the gang carry on with their journey, Tracker struggles to understand who and why this boy had gone missing in the first place. The group comes into contact with many threats along the way, and Tracker also begins to wonder why people want to stop him from finding the boy. Eventually, the paranoia takes over and soon one begins to wonder who can be trusted…

This book’s descriptive writing paints a beautiful and dangerous world that almost anyone, including me, would love to delve into. James’s character building of Tracker was not only intriguing but well detailed. The reader forms an emotional attachment as we learn more about him and his past. James has written a story that moves beyond familiar genre conventions  like that of Game Of Thrones and Lord Of The Rings to deliver a  fresh, unique fantasy with involving and cultured storytelling.  Another aspect of the story that was captivating was the landscape description–part Wakanda, part Asgard with its mystical and mythological landscapes (if you’re thinking in terms of Marvel Comics). The contrast of a beautiful world and the violent creatures keeps the reader on edge and almost forces them to remain involved at all times.

This book and its story may not as relatable because of the obvious extreme violence and fantasy characters, as it may seem but the topics that James uses most in these characters are–  sexuality and violence, Tracker’s own sexual identity is explored throughout his story. This book was fantastic in almost every way (both in terms of plot and genre), my only complaint would be that the story is slightly hard to follow in that it jumps around with its timeline and could cause readers to reread certain parts to get a better understanding. This could cause impatient readers, like myself, to get almost annoyed with the book and need to take breaks from it. However, other than that, the book is a new and exciting take on the classic hero’s journey in which I feel should be explored more in school’s today.  

-Riley Berry ’19