Buddy Read Discussion: Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Part of The Dark Star Trilogy

Published by: Riverhead Books
Feb 04, 2020 | 640 Pages

From the Publisher: 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…

…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.

Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth.

Candace: Black Leopard Red Wolf, for me, was one of those books that I am glad I read and I plan to finish this series, hopefully as part of our buddy reads. But in all honesty, the likeliness of me reading it again is slim to none. And it’s not because it is not a good book or not written well, quite the opposite. Some parts are too well written, too descriptive and graphic, and many parts of this story bothered me because of their very detailed and graphic nature. The violence James placed into his narrative really broke my heart in some areas. Not your typical Hollywood or Stephen King level of horror, but more real… horrors that do occur, and injustices that we ignore in our day to day lives, but set in a world of fantasy, lore, and monsters that would keep anyone up at night. 

Tamera: Yea, I definitely got that from our discussions as we progressed through the book. I was much less affected on a personal level by his descriptions as you seem to have been. Even in the parts that made my skin crawl – I was just so invested in Tracker and some of the other characters that I appreciated how thoroughly James inserts the reader (me) into as many moments as possible. It was interesting to get your feedback on those moments as well and see them through your eyes because I don’t think that I would have noticed the intensity of some of them. I noticed a couple of times that I was all about how intense and graphic a scene was and didn’t even think twice about it until I saw your thoughts. I generally keep an eye out for things that would eliminate a book for recommendation to some of my friends that regularly ask for them, but as soon as something comes up that takes them off the list I no longer notice them until I am thinking back on the book as an entire story. 

Better busy than bored, is that not so?

Candace: Speaking of monsters… I really loved the level of real folklore (and language) from African and African Diaspora culture that James included in his story. Not just the monsters and magic, but the old gods, the new gods, and the way they are talked about by Tracker and his companions.

Tamera: I appreciated this as well. I think that readers can tell when a book has some research behind it, and James seems to have done a lot. At no point have I done any of my own research, so I have no idea how much is actual old lore and religion and how much is just James’s storytelling, but I like that it feels like he put in the work.  

Candace: After meeting all the characters there are a few I grew fond of and two that I absolutely abhor. Ogo was a favorite… as was Mossi and eventually Nyka, which took me by surprise. Tracker grew on me as well, even though he is not my favorite. Eventually once you discover who he really is and what his beliefs are you can’t help but root for him and to want him to have what he wants… 

Tamera: Ogo was a bitter-sweet character for me, but definitely one of my favorites as well. Mossi was probably my very favorite though, with his sarcasm and ability to just go with the flow all the time. 

Candace: I absolutely despise Sogolon the Moon Witch and Fumeli! Oh the anger these two brought out in me during my various readings… If I could have reached into the book and slapped them, especially Fumeli, I would have! 

Tamera: HAHA! Yea, I think that these two were very clearly the ones we were supposed to not like. Fumeli, for me, was more of an annoyance than someone I hated. He seemed to be talked about a lot for someone who had such a small role. 

…some men think truth only needs to be in service to truth.

Candace: My favorite, and least favorite, location James took us to was Dolingo. A beautiful and “magical” city in the trees that had me envisioning something akin to the Hometrees in Avatar. It also ended up being my least favorite location…. Why? I can’t say… spoilers! 

Tamera: SAME! I was so entranced by the introduction of this awesome city… and then it took a hard left turn and I was like … what just happened? In some ways though, there was a lot of character development on so many fronts that happened there. And when we left there, I was just charged with this righteous energy to do something! 

…people always go back to their nature in the end.

Candace: By the end of this book I was ready for it to continue and I am looking forward to the next book in the series. I’m interested to see if we will be following Tracker, or someone else. Will we be moving forward in the timeline, or returning to parts of the past we have already visited. 

Tamera: I’m looking forward to the next book as well. James has already told readers that it will cover basically the same time period as BLRW did, just from a different point of view. I think it will be from the witch’s pov next time. I have no idea who the third will be from. I am actually interested to see if I still feel the same way about some of the characters when I see everything through different eyes. 

Candace: While I ultimately enjoyed James’s story, this is not a book that I would recommend to just anyone due to the sexual content and graphic violence. Those who I would recommend it to I would also suggest to listen to some of Marlon James’s interviews. The book is written in the character’s voice and can make for a bit of difficult reading. Listening to James and having his “voice” reading to me in my head made it easier for me and more enjoyable. 

Tamera: I agree that this is a book that I wouldn’t recommend to all of my friends, but thinking about it now, after taking a while, I think that the pool of people that I would give this to has grown. You read this book on my suggestion, and in the end, you were glad you did. I think that people will surprise you sometimes when we think about what we think they would enjoy reading. 

I’m glad that I read this novel as well. There were times that I definitely thought it went a bit slow, but the story as a whole was awesome and original. I got lost in his writing so often that I just started recording my favorite lines. I will probably always have this book on my shelf just because it’s such an excellent example of writing as a craft. I also agree that having heard the author’s actual voice was helpful in understanding the tone of his writing. I will definitely be getting the other two books as they come out!

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