I was keenly intrigued upon reading both the Pajiba post about this one and I think also possibly Big Idea on Scalzi’s website but I’m not certain about that. I just know I saw a fair amount of press and was very interested in reading James’ take on an epic fantasy world beginning from an African perspective.
“Children cannot help how they are born, they had no choice in it. Choosing to be a fool, though . . .” (Kindle loc 1020)
Unfortunately, I am not the right audience for this book, because in this case “epic fantasy” also means “grimdark”.
Tracker is being accused of killing a child. And for the next however many pages, Tracker tells us the story of how he did not kill the child, wrapped around the convoluted twists and turns of his own story. The telling of the tale spans countries and includes slavery, beatings, murder, eyeballs that don’t stay in heads (I cannot emphasize this enough: eyeballs should stay in heads), the Leopard of the title who is also the first man Tracker sees himself as having loved, betrayals, more murder, book burning, even worse slavery, mad kings and queens, and demons and devils and all manner of nasty things that go bump in the night.
This was the lair of one of the old and forgotten gods, back when gods were brutish and unclean. Or a demon. (Kindle loc 1430)
“You don’t need belief in evil creatures when men flay their own wives,” (Kindle loc 2898)
James’ writing is beautiful. Tracker is amoral and a smart-ass (people are forever saying “you have a nose but no one told me you had a mouth” to him) and even in passages where there are long stretches of untagged dialogue it’s usually easy to tell which person is Tracker and which is the person in conversation with him. And the story is sweeping, and epic, and has a lot to say about a lot of things in ways both subtle and un. And I question, too, how reliable a narrator Tracker is: not only because this story is being given under duress, under investigation of the death of “the child”, but also because he says or the people talking to him say: “I tell you true.”
Now here is a true thing. The King still afraid to kill his sister for if divine blood run in his rivers then it must also run in hers too, and who would be the one to kill she born of a god? (Kindle loc 6466)
And it wasn’t a book for me. I’m tired of “everything is awful and then you die” books. And this very much is in the vein of the two fantasy books I specifically mentioned as not being books I like to read in the Questions with a Cannonballer: Name of the Wind and Game of Thrones. Even though I like neither of those series, I think people who do like them will very much enjoy this book; and probably the rest of the trilogy when it’s released.
Here is a true thing, from me to you: I read this one, and I will read no more of them.