I feel like a bit of a failure as a reader (well, a listener) after this experience. This was not easy.
I really wanted to love this story. It was beautifully imagined and written. This story had everything: drama, action, humor, and adventure. The audiobook performance was unbelievable. The African mythology it was based upon made me want to know more.
And yet, I barely made it to the end.
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 story. 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.
I struggled from the very first chapter, in which our narrator, Tracker, starts talking to someone (we find out later, his inquisitor, as he is in prison) and telling random stories that don’t seem to fit together. (NB: having finished the entire book, I guess maybe the stories actually do fit together, but at the time I was so confused and discouraged that it was literally CHAPTER ONE and I was lost). And then Tracker talks for another 600 pages about his quest to find a boy. On his quest, he meets tons of fascinating characters, gets himself into crazy situations, and sees some unbelievable things that I didn’t completely understand, but most of the time just went along with.
Tracker is not a very reliable narrator. He’s very (Extremely. Extraordinarily. Oh, so very.) opinionated and is more or less fueled by the hatred he has for those who have done him harm. Or is he fueled by love? Are hate and love the same? I DON’T KNOW.
This book is dark. There is a lot of violence and profanity. Some of the violence was hard to get through (oh my god, in the scene with the white scientists, I literally had to pull my car over to the side of the road). I enjoyed the profanity a lot more than the violence, for sure. Some of it actually made me laugh out loud. I thought many times about just stopping, but remembered some of the reviews here on the site (narfna in particular) urging readers to keep going. I’m glad I finished it, but disappointed that I had such a hard time with it and wish I had enjoyed it more than I did.
I listened to the audiobook, which was an amazing feat of voice acting from Dion Graham. Each and every voice was different and distinct, which when you have such a large cast of characters, both men and women, is no small accomplishment. But I had trouble understanding a lot of what he was saying at times. Some of the characters spoke too quietly and some of the dialects were difficult for me to decipher. This was my problem, not Dion Graham’s. I give him nothing but kudos. Another issue with the audiobook is that I wish I had been given access to a map and a list of characters (which I think was part of the hardcover edition). At times I didn’t have any clue who was involved in certain scenes or plots or where things were happening. This world created in this book is huge, but I had trouble differentiating locations and people.
Something interesting that I wondered throughout is if Marlon James had read The Dark Tower books…Tracker and his crew often travel across huge areas by using “magical doors,” of which there are “ten and nine.” Those who have read any of King’s Dark Tower books know that magic doors are how Roland and his ka-tet travel from world to world and that 19 is a magic number. I’m sure this a just a coincidence, but I obsessed over it anyway.
I know that Michael B Jordan has purchased the rights to produce this as a film or a show. I hope it becomes a show on a network that can throw a lot of money at it, because I think it could be amazing to watch.
CBR11 Bingo: #farandaway