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Black Leopard, Red Wolf

By: Marlon James

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Imprint: Riverhead Books

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780735220171

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On Sale: | Pages: 640

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The New York Times Bestseller "A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made." --Neil Gaiman "Gripping, action-packed....The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times The epic novel, an African Game of Thrones, from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings 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.
...a hefty novel that successfully delivers again and again.... With more action than a superhero movie and more wisdom than many literary novels, BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF is Marlon James' latest masterpiece. It's an intricate, intersecting novel that explores so many formative African stories through the lens of an epic adventure. It's a very queer love letter to the hero's journey, and at once an indictment and a reclamation of what it means to be a hero. It's not easy to review, because it truly needs to be read to be experienced, and I highly recommend you take the time to do so. We are so lucky there's more of Dark Star on the way.
Even when he is nestling one tale within another like Russian dolls that underscore the provisional nature of storytelling (and the Rashomon-like ways in which we remember), [James] is giving us a gripping, action-packed narrative. What the novel could have used is a little judicious pruning: As in superhero movies, the action sometimes assumes a predictable, episodic rhythm � one violent, bravura showdown after another, strung together by interludes of travel and efforts to regroup and connect the dots. What propels the novel forward is the same thing that fuels the best superhero movies and comic books: the origin stories of its central characters.... With Tracker and the Leopard, James has created two compelling and iconic characters � characters who will take their place in the pantheon of memorable and fantastical superheroes.
—New York Times
The structure of Black Leopard Red Wolf is episodic and complex, following that quest for the missing boy and bending back to Tracker's and the Leopard's origin stories. James offers guidance, including a list of more than 80 characters and five hand-drawn maps, but don't strive too hard for the linear, just go with the flow (or the raging waters). Black Leopard Red Wolf's momentum is powered by James' incantatory, lush prose and magical storytelling.
—Tampa Bay Times
One marker of a new book's strength is how many older books echo within its pages — and how they are made to sound new by such resonances. By this and many other measures, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the first work of fantasy (and the launch of a planned trilogy) by the Booker Prize-winning novelist Marlon James, is strong indeed.... Like the best fantasy, like the best literary fiction, like the best art period, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is uncanny: familiar and strange, a book that dramatizes the search for meaning — the meaning of suffering and sex and self — and the fear that “looking for meaning will drive you mad.” These are perennial concerns, and what makes “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” so singular is how traditional and novel, how ancient and radical — that is to say, how good — it is.
—Boston Globe
“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.... “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” isn't without some faults, minor though they may be. Like Tolkien, James sometimes cannot bring himself to cut a scene and resume at some later location, and especially early on the readers gets a few unnecessary paragraphs of walking, running, walking, running, walking, running, that become tedious and add nothing to the narrative. The Darklands also has a curiously perfunctory feel.... But these are quibbles at best. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is, for the most part, absolutely brilliant — and the last third of the novel attains a kind of page-turning intensity without sacrificing psychological complexity.... As a weary and jaded reader of heroic fantasy and swords and sorcery — who during my teen years created terrible pastiches of Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia McKillip and Leiber — I can honestly say that James has created a novel and a world that is both fresh and beautifully realized and written.
—Los Angeles Times
Like some of its characters, the book is a shape-shifter, at times assuming the form of a classic fantasy epic and at others that of something ambiguous and bewildering, a fantastical creature that won't stop moving long enough to submit to classification.... The dialogue in “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is reliably sharp — Mr. James is an avowed admirer of Elmore Leonard — and the edged, sexually fraught banter between the two protagonists shows it at its best.... “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is a treasury of stories shaped in the ancient oral tradition, a Decameron of spectacularly embellished African history and myth.... The plot feels slightly too dependent on improvised magical powers and the fight scenes verge on superhero silliness. But against the virtuoso storytelling, these are quibbles.
—Wall Street Journal
I was two pages into Man Booker winner Marlon James' epic fantasy “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” when I experienced an exhilarating literary dj vu. It was the same feeling I had when I first read Gabriel Garcia Mrquez's “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and, more recently, Tomi Adeyemi's “Children of Blood and Bone,” the awareness that I was reading a complex surreal saga that demanded serious attention and that I was reading something new and remarkable.... The novel's settings are stunning in their detail and expansive in their geography, but it's James' creative flexing of the oral tradition of storytelling as the novel's backbone and his gender-fluid, omnisexual main character, Tracker, that may well make this novel a standard-bearer for future fantasies.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Little is as it first appears in “Black Leopard, Red Wolf.” Spirits, gods and mortals live and die and reappear. Who is the mysterious boy, and why is it important that he be found? Which of Tracker's cohort want to rescue the child? Which want to kill him? Who is lying and who is trying to tell the truth? Can the truth ever be determined? Not every question has an answer. Another thing that distinguishes “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is that it doesn't shy away from sex, especially with regard to its queer content.... Although the novel starts on a strong note, it may take readers some time to acclimate to the fictional universe of “Black Leopard, Red Wolf.”... The plot of “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is frequently messy and occasionally opaque, but there's no denying the mythic energy of its settings, the antic humor in its tone or the multidimensionality of its primary characters. This is the kind of immersive fantasy saga that develops a devoted following, an impressive display of inspired storytelling that's only just getting started.
—San Francisco Chronicle
The first installment of a planned Dark Star Trilogy, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is already being hyped as a black “Game of Thrones.” But such a comparison diminishes James' innovative infusion of an African setting and an allusive, wide-ranging storytelling reminiscent of African griot tradition. When he's done, James may not only raise the stakes of the fantasy genre but also help reinvent the nature of narrative fiction.
“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.... He's constructed this book with the same joints as the old epics: episodes of gripping intensity linked loosely together in an arc that resolves itself only at a distance. Scene by scene, the fights are cinematic spectacles, spellbinding blurs of violence set to the sounds of clanging swords and tearing tendons.... Honestly, you'll want to read “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” wearing a smock. It's an extraordinarily violent story, including a surfeit of sexual attacks.
—Washington Post
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