In the first novel of Booker Prize-winner 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. (It's also a 2019 National Book Award finalist.)
... the first spectacular volume of a planned trilogy ... James has spun an African fantasy as vibrant, complex and haunting as any Western mythology, and nobody who survives reading this book will ever forget it ... 'Ocean’s Eleven' has got nothing on this ensemble ... Harvesting mythology and fantasy from the rich soil of Africa — from the Anansi tales to the Sundiata Epic and so much more — James hangs a string of awesome adventures on this quest for the missing boy ... As these bloody stories and their mysteries pile up, I sometimes felt as lost as Tracker does in the woods, despite the inclusion of James’s five hand-drawn maps ... But I didn’t much mind the bouts of discombobulation because I was always enchanted by James’s prose with its adroit mingling of ancient and modern tones ... Scene by scene, the fights are cinematic spectacles, spellbinding blurs of violence set to the sounds of clanging swords and tearing tendons.
In these pages, James conjures the literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe — filled with dizzying, magpie references to old movies and recent TV, ancient myths and classic comic books, and fused into something new and startling by his gifts for language and sheer inventiveness ... James is such a nimble and fluent writer ... Even when he is nestling one tale within another like Russian dolls that underscore the provisional nature of storytelling... he is giving us a gripping, action-packed narrative. What the novel could have used is a little judicious pruning: As in superhero movies, the action sometimes assumes a predictable, episodic rhythm — one violent, bravura showdown after another, strung together by interludes of travel and efforts to regroup and connect the dots ... With Tracker and the Leopard, James has created two compelling and iconic characters — characters who will take their place in the pantheon of memorable and fantastical superheroes.
... the novel is twisty, spinning things out and then drawing them back in — a ceaseless narrative engine in a constant state of revving ... What I’m saying is, James continually surprises — not least in his cashing in of his literary cred for the chance to write straight fantasy ... What I’m saying is, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the real deal ... During the novel’s many battle scenes, the writing can become plodding, like the script notes for a blockbuster action movie... But then James will shift from these ho-hum physical clashes to more exciting bouts of verbal sparring, both in the form of dialogue (Tracker’s bitchy banter is perfect throughout) and in the form of storytelling ... Like the best fantasy, like the best literary fiction, like the best art period, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is uncanny: familiar and strange, a book that dramatizes the search for meaning ... what makes Black Leopard, Red Wolf so singular is how traditional and novel, how ancient and radical — that is to say, how good — it is.