Black Leopard, Red Wolf (James)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf  (Dark Star Trilogy 1)
Marlon James, 2019
Penguin Publishing
640 pp.

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Kingston, Jamaica
Education—B.A., University of the West Indies; M.A., Wilkes University
Awards—Man Booker Prize, Dayton Literary Peace Prize
Currently—lives in Brooklyn New York City, New York

Marlon James is a Jamaican novelist, who taught English and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and currently is teaching at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.

James's most recent novel, the 2019 epic fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, has been compared to an African Game of Thrones. His 2014 novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Seven Killings re-imagines the attempted murder of Bob Marley and a narrative of Jamaican history.

The Book of Night Women, his 2010 novel about a slave woman's revolt in a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century, won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His earlier novel, John Crow’s Devil, written in 2005, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

James is a graduate of the University of the West Indies where he earned a degree in Literature (1991). Subsequently, he earned his Master's in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 11/20/2014.)

Book Reviews
Gripping, action-packed.… The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe—filled with dizzying, magpie references to old movies and recent TV, ancient myths and classic comic books, and fused into something new and startling by his gifts for language and sheer inventiveness.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times

Marlon James is one of those novelists who aren’t afraid to give a performance, to change the states of language from viscous to gushing to grand, to get all the way inside the people he’s created.… [Black Leopard, Red Wolf] looks like another great, big tale of death, murder and mystery but more mystically fantastical.… Not only does this book come with a hefty cast of characters (like Seven Killings), there are also shape shifters, fairies, trolls, and, apparently, a map. The map might be handy. But it might be the opposite of why you come to James—to get lost in him ("Ten Things Our Critics Are Looking Forward to in 2019").
Wesley Morris - New York Times

[A] sprawling fantasy novel set in a dark-age Africa of witches, spirits, dazzling imperial citadels and impenetrable forests. In a genre dominated by imagery derived from the European middle ages, Black Leopard, Red Wolf feels new and exciting
Wall Street Journal

Fantasy fiction gets a shot of adrenaline.

Like the best fantasy, like the best literary fiction, like the best art period, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is uncanny.
Boston Globe

Stand aside, Beowulf. There’s a new epic hero slashing his way into our hearts, and we may never get all the blood off our hands.… 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.
Washington Post

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is bawdy (OK, filthy), lyrical, poignant, violent (sometimes hyperviolent), riotous, funny (filthily hilarious), complex, mysterious, and always under tight and exquisite control…. A world that is both fresh and beautifully realized…. Absolutely brilliant.
Los Angeles Times

James is a professed fantasy nerd, so Black Leopard, Red Wolf will certainly appeal to fans of all the well-acknowledged authors with at least two initials—George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, etc. But if you’ve read James’ 2014 novel A Brief History of Seven Killings…, you’ll drag yourself to the midnight queue to buy Black Leopard regardless of the whole "Game of Thrones" selling point.
Huffington Post

Black Leopard, Red Wolf aims to be an event, and to counter the dominant impression of the genre it inhabits.… Black Leopard delivers some genre-specific satisfactions: the fight scenes are choreographed with comic-book wit.… But it deliberately upends others. When I first saw the news that James was writing a fantasy trilogy, I had assumed that, after reaching the pinnacle of critical acclaim, with the Booker, he was pivoting to the land of the straightforward best-seller.… Instead, he’d written not just an African fantasy novel but an African fantasy novel that is literary and labyrinthine to an almost combative degree.
The New Yorker

The novel teems with nightmares: devils, witches, giants, shape-shifters, haunted woods, magic portals. It’s terrifying, sensual, hard to follow—but somehow indelible, too.

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.
Entertainment Weekly

[A] planned trilogy with a trek across a fantastical Africa that is equal parts stimulating and enervating.… Though marred by its lack of subtlety, this is nonetheless a work of prodigious imagination capable of entrancing readers.
Publishers Weekly

★ An epic sweep, an intensely layered structure, and raw if luscious language that pins readers to the page… A gloriously delivered story that feels eminently real despite the hobgoblins, and for literary readers, eager to see the world… in a new light. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

★ Wrought with blood, iron, and jolting images, this swords-and-sorcery epic set in a mythical Africa is also part detective story, part quest fable…. 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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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 together (at least sometimes) to accomplish the same goal. Other than Tracker, which member of the fellowship did you find most compelling and why? Who did you have the most questions about?

6. Tracker has problematic ideas about and relationships with women. How do these issues inform the narrative?

7. Sogolon and her quest loom large over the rest of the novel. What do you think of the choices she makes in pursuit of her goal?

8. What aspects of Black Leopard, Red Wolf feel connected to the classic fantasy tradition? How does the book depart from that lineage?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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