With his latest novel James shows us that he is just as skilful in the fantasy genre as he is in the historical fiction. Marlon James makes his readers work. Almost every sentence written presents the reader with the possibility of missing important plot points hidden in subterfuge and misdirection. It’s impossible to pick this weighty tome up and expect to just breeze through it. The reward for digging in and reading as if you were studying for an exam, a brilliantly balanced yet complex, oh so complex, narrative. I don’t know which parts spring from Marlon’s imagination and which parts are actual African Mythology, regardless of their origin, the world and creatures that reside within these pages are amazing. As you would expect from a fantasy novel, it’s populated with amazing creatures, witches, demons, but there is a distinctly African feel to them, like the Omoluzu, who can only exist on the ceilings, and track their prey sprinting along upside down above them.
For me this is a five star read. However, there have been many varied reviews of this book, with ratings ranging from five stars to dnf’s. The reason for this is the book is filled with violence and rape passages that are probably the most graphic in detail and depiction that I have ever read. The question is are these passages integral to the narrative? Would they have affected the overall tone of the novel if they were watered down or left out completely? I believe that they are justified, used to paint the picture, with a dripping red brush, of a savage, brutal, magical world where violence, rape, torture and slavery are commonplace. A reader does not have to be a savage violent rapist to enjoy this book, quite the opposite. James is writing these passages to instil disgust and horror in the reader. Yet, again, this is the world in which this novel exists.
The main protagonist is Tracker, a man with a wolf’s eye and a nose that can track anything. However, he is not alone. Marlon James has said that he drew inspiration from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Tracker has his own fellowship. This fellowship is tasked with finding a boy whose importance to the world seems to be unmeasurable. Tracker’s fellowship, well it is more of a rag tag bunch of misfits, consists of the shape-shifting Leopard who provides the name for the other half of the title. There is Sadogo, the metal gloved giant, who spends the whole book telling the group he is not a giant. There is the Moon Witch Sogolon whose motive for finding the boy seems to be questionable compared to the group. Mossi, the double sword wielding prefect who is convinced to join them in their search and then there is a water buffalo. Nope, you heard me correctly, a water buffalo, who at times seems to be the brains of the operation.
I adored this book. It is unlike any book I have read before. I think that Marlon James is one of the bright stars of contemporary literature, but I must stress that this book is not for everybody. It is very explicit in its graphic violence, rape and torture passages. If you can make it past these passages you are in for an amazing ride. I simply cannot wait for the second book. 5 Stars!
Marlon James is a Jamaican-born writer. He has published three novels: John Crow's Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009) and A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to parents who were both in the Jamaican police: his mother (who gave him his first prose book, a collection of stories by O. Henry) became a detective and his father (from whom James took a love of Shakespeare and Coleridge) a lawyer. James is a 1991 graduate of the University of the West Indies, where he read Language and Literature. He received a master's degree in creative writing from Wilkes University (2006).
James has taught English and creative writing at Macalester College since 2007. His first novel, John Crow's Devil — which was rejected 70 times before being accepted for publication — tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957. His second novel, The Book of Night Women, is about a slave woman's revolt in a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century. His most recent novel, 2014's A Brief History of Seven Killings, explores several decades of Jamaican history and political instability through the perspectives of many narrators. It won the fiction category of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, having been the first book by a Jamaican author ever to be shortlisted. He is the second Caribbean winner of the prize, following Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul who won in 1971.
Great interview with Marlon here - https://io9.gizmodo.com/marlon-james-talks-superheroes-the-joy-of-fantasy-and-1832275142?IR=T