Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Read Feb 18 – March 19
Released Feb 5th, 2019
This is one of the most divisive books I’ve ever read.
Every review I’ve seen on it has either been 4/5 stars or 1/2 stars. I have seen maybe one or two 3 star, middle of the road kind of reviews.
Unfortunately I was in the 1/2 star camp. I didn’t like this book.
I buddy read this book with Katy @BookbinderWay and she ended up really enjoying it, I think she gave it 4 stars. Whatever she saw in it though, I obviously didn’t see, which is a shame. I wanted to like this book, I did. This was an anticipated release and I bought very quickly after it came out. And if you’ve been following my blog at all, I wrote a post recently about DNFing books, discussing time wasted versus money wasted. In the post I didn’t name what book I was talking about. Take a guess, though. Guess.
I didn’t end up DNFing this book, I finished it, but honestly I don’t know if it was worth it. In retrospect, the money I spent on the book was basically paying for the unpleasant time I had reading it, so there’s another point to my discussion in that post. Anyways, onto my thoughts:
The first thing I noticed about the book was the writing. It was written like you were sitting around a campfire, listening to someone tell you an ancient tale. And it worked for me… for a bit. But soon it became difficult to tell who was saying what, what was a side thought and what was spoken aloud, what was important and what wasn’t. There was no emphasis on things over other things. I couldn’t tell if a tangent a character went on would be important information for later, or if it was just, well, them going on a tangent.
The plot meandered and while I typically don’t mind a meandering plot, the whole synopsis of the book, the ‘find the boy, big mystery’ plot, took a backseat. The stakes were supposedly high but because the earlier mentioned lack of emphasis, I couldn’t gather why. It’s like the author was like ‘this is the big thing that’s gonna happen but we’ll just make it of equal focus to everything else that’s going on’. It made the reading experience difficult and muddled. I also didn’t end up caring about any of the characters. I hated Tracker, the main character. I didn’t like The Leopard, I didn’t like really anyone except Sadogo.
I think the thing I disliked the most about this book – what really kept me from getting invested, is how unnecessarily sexually violent everything was. Rapes here, rapes there, threatened rapes, actual rapes, people literally dying from rapes. Comments about penises doing penis things left and right, people assaulting each other sexually and nobody finding it abnormal. I mean… it was gross. I was uncomfortable, and it kept me from like.. enjoying the story because every other page someone would threaten to ravage someone else’s ass or something. None of it was even relevant to the plot – I felt like it was just in there to be shocking for its own sake.
So, about half way through the book, I wrote the post I mentioned earlier, and I decided to pick the book up on audio. That did help. Hearing this book that felt like an oral tale told, well, orally, helped. The narrator did a fantastic job – he actually put emphasis into things and spoke side-thoughts so they sounded like side thoughts. I could actually tell what was important and what wasn’t. So at that point, I could somewhat get passed all the problems I had been having and actually focus on the plot of the story. Unfortunately though, while everything was more clear, the plot still fell flat for me.
So – while I very much didn’t like this book over all, there were some good things about it. The world that James crafted is really neat. The creatures he mentions are fascinating, the cultures are really neat, the lore he based everything off of is fascinating, and I wanna read more things inspired by it. And just experiencing the world and its various magical elements was really, really cool.
But unfortunately, the setting wasn’t enough to save the book for me. The premise was good, the world was great… but the characters, violence, and meandering really ruined it for me.
If you’re in the mindset to read something containing all that, I can see how you’d love the book. It felt like I was reading an epic like Gilgamesh or something at points. But, for me, it did not click. I did not like it, which is such a bummer.
I haven’t decided if I’m gonna unhaul the book or if I’m gonna wait a few years and reread it. We’ll see.