Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)by Marlon James Published 05 Feb 2019
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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 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 truths, the limits of power, the excesses of ambition, and our need to understand them all.
"Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, #1)" Reviews
NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NO THANK YOU NOPE.
to say this isnt for me is an understatement, but to claim this is a book for the masses is just a straight up lie. this has been pitched as one of the most buzz-worthy books of 2019 and i had really high hopes for this. but it takes a very particular kind of person to enjoy this story, and that person is definitely not me. i have a lot of thoughts about this, so bear with me.
honestly, this is the most pretentious book i have ever read. its so far beyond high-brow, its in an obnoxious league all on its own. james employs every literary device possible to transform his words into riddles, half-truths, and vague mysteries. as a reader, i dont mind having to sometimes work for a story. some of the best stories take patience to dissect deeper meanings. but what is really happening here is marlon james hiding behind his fancy words and complicated sentences to distract the reader from the lack of substance and development. the rhetoric in this story is dense, convoluted, and bogged down with false promises of something worth reading. the prose is evasive and meandering, dragging the reader around and around in circles without an end in sight. its honestly a disorganised and conceited mess.
also, the amount of lewdness in the book is obscene. im not easily deterred by things sexual in nature, but this is too extreme for me. a big neon flashing trigger warning is necessary for the following: rape, gang rape, pedophilia, bestiality, incest, mutilation of bodies, graphic murder, physical and emotional abuse, repetitious orgies, torture, misogyny, etc. and none of it has any relevance to the plot or progression of the storyline. i understand that mythology doesnt shy away from such brutality, but there is a difference between being aware and just being down right offensive. and this book is the latter.
such a lack of humanity ensures there is nothing redeemable or relatable about this book. had this been a simple story about a tracker and a shapeshifter in search of a missing boy, deeply rooted in african mythology and cultural folklore fantasy, i would have loved this to bits. the concept is phenomenally creative. but this book is nothing that it claims to be.
so if you want to read a book that deceivingly promises a story lush with cultural richness and imaginative fantasy, but is polluted with haughty notions of grandeur and overwhelmingly unnecessary vulgarity, then look no further because this is the book for you.
okay. rant over.
↠ 1.5 stars
Eh, is this book for serious? Was everyone reading some book other than the one I did?
This is supposed to be some kind of African Game of Thrones. At least it's often hyped as such.
Instead, I got something like an obscene cross between:
~ the Aboriginal myths of the African tribes,
~ blatant YA intermixed with hopelessly flat adult situations seemingly happening on each page,
- pointlessly gorish description of a bunch of adventures happening all over the place,
~ writings of some emigree who hasn't yet mastered his English well,
~ badly stylized musings of a self-edu philosopher,
- there's even dendrophilia thrown in for good measure ...
I could love everything of the above but the resulting mix of it all and something else is too niche.
The plot is also very... Tarzanesque? Burroughsesque? Whatever? Kohl dust, kid prostitutes and children mingi and generally, pleasure mongers, mountains and winds and waves and lakes and storms, dhows, medicine women, griots, yeruwolos, Ipundulu, Adze, Eloko, Itaki, Omoluzu, cages, violence, people falling from trees & houses, cursed kings, ghommids, antiwitches, bush fairies, - this is a kaleidoscope of randomness. An original kaleidoscope, I give it that.
It even managed to design and incorporate the type of perfect recall that I would have liked to skip (for the 1st time since ever): Q: the perfect recall of the smell in the crack of a man’s buttocks (c). I kid you not!
Still... what exactly was it all supposed to congeal into?
It feels as if the author took the words of one of the characters way too seriously and followed them through to the end: Q: I have no reason for anything. (c) You know what, pal? I noticed. And I don't care about such attitude, since I actually like my books to be able to demonstrate at least a pinch of reason.
Plus, all the references to... child sex trade??? Whoa?
The girl left the child with Miss Wadada, who looked at his skin and bathed him every quartermoon in cream and sheep butter. She forbade him to do any work so that his muscles would stay thin, his cheeks high and hips much wider than his waist. Miss Wadada made him the most exquisite of all creatures, who had all the best stories of all the worst people, but preferred that you fucked each tale out and paid him a fee on top of Miss Wadada’s for being the best information hound in all Kongor. (c)
Besides, what man wants to enter a room where he can smell the man who just left? (c)
Voyeurism & a boy masturbating another boy to a nice view of adults going at it:
The woman hopped up and down, jiggled, whispered, panted, bawled, grunted, screamed, squeezed her own breast, opened and closed herself. The moonlight boy had moved his hand between my legs, pulling my skin back and forth to match her up and down. (c)
Plain crude, even though entertaining:
Q: “A thousand fucks—”
“I have long passed a thousand fucks. (c)
She good with the fucky-fucky, but gods alive, she can’t cook. Can’t cook a shit (c)
I chopped his hand off. (c)
I went over and pulled the ax out of her head. (c)
Blink three time and peppered afterbirth is ready. You want a piece, my friend? It just come out of a woman from the Buju-Buju. (c)
The boy cut a piece of the afterbirth with his knife and shoved it in his mouth. (c) Tasty, huh?
The smile on her face said all. She knew he would kill her. Better to be with the ancestors than to live bonded to somebody else, who might be kind, who might be cruel, who might even make you master to many slaves of your own, but was still master over you. (c)
Some quotes are nice-ish:
When darkness falls, one embraces one’s enemy. (c)
Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth. (c)
... which is not enough to atone for the atrocity which is this plot rambling on and on nonsensically:
“Did you translate for me or him?”
“You betray what you fight so long for?” Sogolon said.
“Look at you, Moon Witch. You don’t even look three hundred years old. But then, gunnugun ki ku lewe. How did you survive going back through that door?”
“You betraying that what you long fight for,” she said again.
“You talking to me or the Leopard?” I asked. (c) Yes, it's a dialogue. Makes lot of sense? Not to me.
“He dies tonight,” the Aesi said.
“He dies from my ax,” I said.
“No,” Sogolon said.
“A lie, a lie, a lie ha ha ha,” the boy said again.
“A lie, a lie, a lie ha ha ha,” Nyka said. (c) Reads mentally disabled, frankly.
Look how that thrills you. Look at you.
I will give you a story.
It begins with a Leopard.
And a witch.
No, you will not call for the guards.
My mouth might say too much before they club it shut.
Regard yourself. A man with two hundred cows who delights in a patch of boy skin and the koo of a girl who should be no man’s woman. (c) Any sense?
Ask them why your South has not been winning this war, but neither the North.
The child is dead. There is nothing else to know. Otherwise, ask the child.
Oh you have nothing left to ask? Is this where we part?
What is this? Who comes in this room?
No, I do not know this man. I have never seen his back or his face.
Don’t ask me if I recognize you. I do not know you.
And you, inquisitor, you give him a seat. Yes, I can see he is a griot. Do you think he brought the kora to sell it? Why would this be the time for praise song?
It is a griot with a song about me.
There are no songs about me.
Yes, I know what I said before, I was the one who said it. (c) Yes, it's a piece of text. It's probably supposed to mean something.
I took the holster off my back, pulled my belt, and stepped out of my tunic and loincloth. I started walking north, following that star to the right of the moon. He came and went quick, like an afterthought, he did. The Aesi. He appeared in that way, as if he was always here, and left in that way, as if he never was. The hyenas would make use of the Leopard. It was the way of the bush, and it would have been what he wanted.
Maybe this was the part where men with smarter heads and bigger hearts than mine looked at how the crocodile ate the moon, and how the world spins around the gods of sky, especially the gone sun god, regardless of what men and women do in their lands. And maybe from that came some wisdom, or something that sounded like it. But all I wanted to do was walk, not to anything, not from anything, just away. From behind me I heard, “Give me drink! Give me drink!” (c) What the effing?
You are the last of your kind, Nyka. One the Ipundulu chose to change rather than kill. Such honor he saves for those he enslaves and those he has fucked, so which are you?”
“Ipundulu can only be a man, no woman can be Ipundulu.”
“And only a body possessed by his lightning blood can be Ipundulu.”
“I told you. Ipundulu can only be a man. No woman can be Ipundulu.”
“That is not the part I asked you.”
“The last man he bit but did not kill, that man becomes the next Ipundulu, unless crossed by a mother witch, and he has no mother.” (c) I can't help thinking that now I know a lot more about Ipundulu than I might have ever wanted to.
That light, you see it and you want it—not light from the sun, or from the thunder god in the night sky, but light with no blemish, light in a boy who has no knowledge of women, a girl you bought for marriage, not because you need a wife, for you have two hundred cows, but a wife you can tear open, because you search for it in holes, black holes, wet holes, undergrown holes for the light that vampires look for, and you will have it, you will dress it up in ceremony, circumcision for the boy, consummation for the girl, and when they shed blood, and spit, and sperm and piss you leave it all on your skin, to go to the iroko tree and use any hole you find. (c) This is 1 (one) sentence. It has everything crammed into it: triggers, thunder god, questionable sexual practices, vampires, cows, ECOSEXUALITY? (maybe dendrophilia?)??? ...
I just think it's off and not in a good way. Not my cup of cow blood, Omoluzu piss, hallucinogenic tea or whatever it is these 'heroes' could be bothered to offer the reader!
I can handle many things as a reader:
The highly stylized, dense prose, when you don't really understand what's going on but just have to immerse yourself in a narrative until it starts making sense.
All the raping and gore and general fixation on penis as THE center of everyone's world.
Messiness of time lines.
James uses every tool in his toolbox of pretentious literary devices. If he wants to dedicate half a page to explaining that Leopard smells like ass, ok, fine, go for it. I can deal with these things, and I am willing to work hard while reading.
But this story needed at least a little bit of grounding in something real, something relatable and human.
The last straw for me was the realization that James would never allow his characters to talk to each other in any other way but riddles, faux-deep statements and stories about killings and rapes of children, women and men.
What's left to relate to then? How to connect with a story that doesn't give you anything to tether you to it?
I can’t do it.
DNF at 40%
it's a pretty good book, I suppose. if you like them dipped in dog shit, cows piss and utterly rotten.
If i were the publisher and someone had brought this book to me, I'd have advised them to consider getting some help. I don't know what is wrong with Marlon James, but I am pretty sure something is malfunctioning in his brain. Whatever the case, I am really curious to know what was going on in his life when he decided to write this book, and what kind of head space was he in when he thought it would be a great idea to write about child molestation, rape and murder. I mean this dude has crossed all lines.
This book comes with a trigger warning for everything known to men and more.
There is Rape on every single page.
Mutilation of bodies, specially of children's.
General disgust arising from superfluous description of genitalia, smell of butt cracks, weird creatures that rape with their huge penises etc.
If it were a stand alone book, I might have forced myself to finish it, but it's a fucking trilogy. I can't, I just can't.
To be absolutely clear this book is disturbing and disgusting.
Now let's move on to the plot and the writing.
Plot was interesting. If it weren't filled with disgusting, gory, creepy shit, I would have enjoyed it. However, i can't say the same for the writing and the structure of the book. It felt like the book was being complicated for the sake of being complicated, like there were stories within a story, (inception level shit) and characters that only talked to each other in riddles.
Almost nothing was grounded in reality. It's was excruciating and painful to read because there was nothing I could relate to.
Edit: After recieving hate on my initial review, I decided to add this note to clarify myself.
I know it's an oxymoron to use fantasy and reality in the same sentence, I am not an idiot to not see that. My point is that almost all fantasy books have some real elements, either in the world building or in the characters, to make readers feel at home. However, this book felt like a course in quantum physics. I couldn't feel anything for anything and I mostly blame the superfluous writing for it. A simpler writing style and plot structure would have made a great difference.
PS: My negative opnion is like a grain of salt in the sea of positive reviews so it shouldn't matter what i think about this book. You are allowed to love this book just as I am allowed not to. Take a chill pill and move on. No need to send hateful comments and death threats.
Things I liked about this book:
So the plot was alot like NoTW and GoT, and it was the main reason I kept pushing myself to read it but the structure and writing was way too complex for me to fully immerse into it. I think a TV or movie adaptation would be a better way to consume this story.
2. African myths.
Lets be honest the only reason I picked this book was the fact that it was based around African myths and mythical creatures. I was super excited and went into it with high expectations, which also played a role in intensifying my disappointment for the book. But I really enjoyed the mythical aspect of the book and I really want to learn more about these myths and creatures.
OK so the concept, as explained by the Marlon James himself, seemed pretty unique and intriguing. The whole idea of telling the same story from three different perspectives is bloody genius, in my opnion. However, the execution was bad or you can say it wasn't for me.
Am I curious to know the ending?
- Yes, I am.
Will continue reading?
- No, I'll watch the movie instead.
Will I recommend this book?
- I won't. But if you are into dark, gritty, complex books then you can give it a shot. I recommend you to read a few pages (if possible) before purchasing the book to familiarize yourself with the writing style, 'cos this shit ain't for everyone.
By now, one can easily identify certain features that define the "Jamesian" style: cinematic violence, shameless sexuality, perverse, sharp humor and wit, flawlessly rendered settings, and virtuosic, rhythmic language. There is also the strong presence of the fantastic: ghosts and spirits, obeah women and demons who haunt the pages of his visceral stories.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf finds Marlon James at the peak of his powers, unafraid to shed the cloak of realism that won him the Man Booker prize in favor of a full-blown, epic fantasy saga. (And at a time when genre-snobbery is at an all-time high.) In the hands of this master novelist, the genre's conventions are blown apart and reassembled as something bold and subversive, aware of its capaciousness but incredibly nuanced and carefully built. It is a novel that resists categorization and description, set as it is in an impeccably and exhaustively researched world of folklore and myth drawn from regions of Central and West Africa, and exploratory of contemporary themes of gender equality and political corruption, queer identity and the exploration of love (and glorious sex 🤷🏽♂️) between black men. The characters in this novel are sublimely realized. So much care went into their conception and I was stunned by the depth and range of emotion MJ was able to coax from his sundry band of flawed creatures.
Defying the Western belief in one definitive version of a story, BLRW is structured as an oral epic in which stories lead to more stories which lead to yet more, ultimately providing the reader with a conundrum of reliability: who tells the truth and whose story is being told? Marlon James chooses to leave that entirely up to the reader. There are many elusive layers of detail to sift through from the very beginning: a test of endurance, almost asking "do you really want to hear this story?" But once past its shadowy prologue, the story proceeds in a frenetic rush of action that totally engages the senses, creating an insanely, compulsively addictive reading experience.
Read this for the beautiful depiction of queer love that is the true heart of the novel, a total subversion of masculine isms and male sexuality in literature. Or read it for the dejected women who rail against a corrupt patriarchy, giving voice to the trauma and abuse suffered at the hands of thoughtless men. Read it for the thrill of the quest, the adventure, replete with monsters and demons, cities in the sky and markets where witches trade in baby parts, among countless other darkly fantastic elements. The immensity of adventure in this novel lends itself to an immensity of purpose which takes familiar novelistic themes and fantasy genre tropes, and radically molds them into a form both new and hypnotic in its scope and imaginative fearlessness.
OK, I'm done with this one. I tried. Adding to my DNF pile, not to be revisited. I tried the audio. I love accents and this one was a heavy accent that required a lot of concentration on my part...and constant rewinding. I also had the print which I frequently had to use when I was confused. But it seemed I was more confused reading this one than I wanted to be. It's also very, very graphic. I'm not a prude but it just seemed to me a lot was unnecessary. I was so excited for this one but I've made myself a rule....don't spend your time on reading books you don't like.