Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Marlon James

Ribald, packed to the gods with African myths but not easy.

Tracker’s quest, to find a missing boy, becomes a search for identity.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a masterclass in the art of writing dialogue. James’s quick fire repartee brings his array of characters to life. The novel is extraordinarily inventive, populated by tricksy shapeshifters, vampires, witches made of water, and children of smoke.

James blends traditional myths with those of his own creation. The novel crashes through the publishing barrier to deliver African mythology/Black fantasy to a Western audience and must signify as a wake-up call to the publishing world: if you publish it they will read.

The novel contains extreme violence, so much so it is hard not to become inured to the brutality after 600+ pages. Also within those pages are buckets of blood, semen, shit and any other bodily product you care to mention. Be of no doubt: this is an earthy book.

What lets it down is the meandering plot which lurches from one gory confrontation to the next with only the slenderest of narratives in between.

There is much to admire, and perhaps it would repay a second reading to make sense of it all. Almost certainly, you will want to revisit the dialogue, anyway, for a close analysis of pacing, conflict, humour and character motivation all pared down to the gnawed bone.

For now, I can confidently say that if you love prose for prose’s sake, give this a go, but if you are after plot-driven narrative…well, there really is nothing else like it, so give it a go anyway.

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