Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a meandering novel, weaving together many elements of African mythology. You may have seen it described as epic fantasy, but’s epic in the way The Odyssey is, and not like A Game of Thrones.

Tracker starts the story with an introduction to his past. I am still not sure if this is referring to female genital mutilation or not, or is Tracker intersex? He talks about how it was left too late to have the woman cut from him, that he will also carry her inside him. He also finds out that his father, who he hated, was not his father. Instead he is his grandfather’s son. Yeah, it was a bit confusing at the start!

So Tracker is known to have a nose, he can find anyone. He is hired to find a boy. He bands together with a group of mercenaries, including a shapeshifter called Leopard. His travels take him all over this alternate Africa, befriending mingi children (children who have been rejected by their families due to strange defects; a girl made of smoke, giraffe boy, another whose body is ball-like). He goes to strange lands and meets all sorts of dangerous creatures.

When kings fall they fall on top of us.

It’s very much in the tradition of oral storytelling, with lots of tangents and various stories, with the loose central plot being there to hold them together. I am not sure this is my kind of thing. I enjoyed many of the stories, but found there was just too much going on. I had read that Marlon James did a lot of research for this book and I fear he didn’t want to leave anything out. I personally would have liked a collection of stories based on African myths rather than feeling a bit confused about how they all fit together.

I did really like the sad character of Sadogo. An ogre of sorts, his people are hated as the human women they impregnate then die in childbirth due to the size of the baby. He feels guilt at his very existence. He was read so sad in the audiobook, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.

There’s a lot of casual reference to rape and child abuse, and it’s swept away all a bit quickly for me to accept it being there. At a few points, it seems like it is going to handle it with a bit more sensitivity, but due to the sheer scale of the story, there’s just not time. Also, I find literary descriptions of sexual acts a bit absurd. There is “seed” all over the place.

There will be plenty of people who think this is an amazing piece of work. I am glad I gave Marlon James a try, but I fear his style is just not for me.

Listening Notes

Dion Graham did a fantastic job of narrating this mammoth audiobook (24 hours of it!). I do not believe I would have had the patience to finish it in print, but his performance was entertaining and suited the story.

ATY: 32. A book with more than 500 pages

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Book Source: Purchased