Book Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Elena Marin, Staff Writer

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first novel of Marlon James’s new, Dark Star trilogy, that is engulfed in fantasy, action, myths, and history, focusing on a mercenary named Tracker who is hired to find a mysterious missing child.

When I was browsing through the bookstore, Black Leopard, Red Wolf caught my eye. I don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but the colors were enough to lure me into picking it up. The cover was styled with bright magenta pink, vibrant purples, and bright blues and the title of the book was in white bold letters. The design of the book drew me in. Looking at the back of the cover, I read a review by Neil Gaiman, the author of Coraline and Good Omens, which lead me to buy the book. “A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made,” the back of the book read. 

The story is a scanting 620 pages, which means it is a story that you have to take time to read and appreciate, as it is full of details that can be overlooked if you breeze through it.

The book mostly follows the mercenary known as Tracker, the Red Wolf, who is narrating his quest to search for the missing boy. Later in his journey, other characters, the shape-shifter Leopard and the skin shedder Nyka, join him in his expedition. Throughout Tracker’s journey, he encounters many dark creatures who seek to destroy him and his companions such as demons, vampires, and were-hyenas. 

The story takes place in a fantasy Africa- a unique and imaginative world that is dark and dangerous. Supernatural and magic often suffocate the world of Black Leopard, Red Wolf and although the world feels very magical it is also well-developed and feels extremely real. The world takes on some political tones as there are tensions between many tribes in the two African territories referred to as the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The tensions seem to connect with the missing boy in some way or another.

Truth and secrets remain constant throughout the story as Tracker repeatedly questions if the characters are telling him the truth. Many secrets are kept hidden from Tracker, the main secret being the mystery behind the missing boy that Tracker is trying to find. He often finds himself questioning himself as well as his own life and purpose, which unravels development in Tracker as a character.

The novel didn’t remind me of Tolkien’s novels, but rather a horrific and tragic world that is shrouded with mystery and fantasy that only Marlon James could create with his imagination. And while the book was disturbing to read at times, and you just wanted to scream into the heavens, it was impossible to put the book down because you’re hooked into the story and want to know what happens next. It’s an eye-opener and makes you second guess your former judgment. 

Reading this book was an experience like no other book I’ve read; every page was worth reading and I’m looking forward to the next edition to the trilogy.