The story appears on

Page A11

March 17, 2019

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sunday » Book

An epic journey into a fantastic realm

MARLON James’s “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is a serpentine, epic tale set in a fantastic realm of evil monsters, villains and flawed heroes. At its center is a quest for a boy, a child we know is dead from the first line of the novel.

James, who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” a fictionalization of the attempted murder of Bob Marley and beyond, brings his storytelling acumen to territory more commonly associated with Tolkien and George R.R. Martin.

The hero, if you can call him that, of this Homeric odyssey, is Tracker, one of a collection of characters engaged to find the missing boy. Tracker possesses the nose of a bloodhound or a wolf, but an otherworldly one, capable of hunting down the boy, many days missing and many miles away. The boy is a mystery, perhaps the key to the lineage of kings, and wanted by several factions.

The story owes a debt to Homer, with a plot that curves and bends and defies a linear path, the ultimate outcome revealed in the opening lines. The story is as much about the storytelling as it is about the tale itself.

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” hits the required notes — kings, queens and witches, fabulously evocative locales, deceptions and betrayal and evil monsters. There are flesh-eaters and bloodsuckers, and creatures called Omoluzu or Roof Walkers.

The storytelling is ambitious and enjoyable, and in many places even epic. However, there were times when I wanted to put the book down and not return, most often in the first section and the final one. At the beginning, I had trouble keeping the characters and sequence of events clear in my mind. In the final part, I almost lost heart and could not finish. The story felt like it was taking the Rashomon effect to the nth degree and was retelling the same battles and histories over and again.

The best writing, I found, was when James was at his most direct. My favorite lines — “I lived in town, which was a new thing for me. I have always been an edge man, always on the coast, always by the boundary. That way nobody knows if I have just come or was turning to leave” — tell me about Tracker in a way that 100 killings and a multitude of foes did not.

Tracker is never settled, always moving, always keeping others off-balance. The prose here is simple, direct and to the point.

The main body of the novel pulled me through an exciting new world, a fictional African-inspired fantasy realm with lyrical prose and grand adventure, but I’m not sure I can say I’m excited for the next installment.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend