In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Sogolon the Moon Witch proved a worthy adversary to Tracker as they clashed across a mythical African landscape in search of a mysterious boy who disappeared. In Moon Witch, Spider King, Sogolon takes center stage and gives her own account of what happened to the boy, and how she plotted and fought, triumphed and failed as she looked for him. It's also the story of a century-long feud—seen through the eyes of a 177-year-old witch—that Sogolon had with the Aesi, chancellor to the king. It is said that Aesi works so closely with the king that together they are like the eight limbs of one spider. Aesi's power is considerable—and deadly. It takes brains and courage to challenge him, which Sogolon does for reasons of her own.
During the course of more than 600 pages, Sogolon lives a dozen lives and is haunted by a hundred ghosts. 'Let us make this quick,' Sogolon often said, just as I was trying to catch my breath. The book is told in the syntax of a dialect: Verbs are left unconjugated, and words are shuffled around. I reread sections to try to understand who was speaking and what was being said. Then a line of pure poetry would stop me in my tracks ... I have other gripes. The flow of bodily fluids is still relentless, and there is to my mind an excess of crudely referenced orifices and thrusting male genitalia. Rape is again ubiquitous and graphic ... The cities of this world rival any creation of Italo Calvino ... James’s imagination is vast and fiery, and his numerous fight scenes are heart-pumping and vivid. But what has stayed with me are his more subtle observations on the human condition, how people don’t run away from terrible situations only because they don’t know where else to go, how love is like fear, grief is like fury and revenge can never be as satisfying as you imagine ... A reader must enter the Dark Star trilogy of her own volition, with eyes wide open. But the Moon Witch lit my path and showed me how a woman might navigate this dangerous, remarkable world.
Marlon James’s Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star trilogy, is both a continuation of the narrative that began with Black Leopard, Red Wolf in 2019 and an outstanding retelling of that story that expands on what the first book started. While shifting points of view, James...enriches the existing story, and the result is a book that simultaneously celebrates African mythology while creating its own ... an impressive amalgamation of folklore, magic, and mythology that weaves together several narratives, but the element that makes it memorable is James’s prose. As lush as the forests he describes, the prose in this novel is simple, rhythmic, and strangely elegant. This is writing with a kind of cadence that turns every line into a poem, every story a tale told around a fire, every event an occurrence deserving of attention ... Retelling the same story from a different perspective is not a gimmick here; it is a successful literary device that leads to a gripping narrative ... This is a novel about the power of grief where anger is a driving force, and in that, despite all its fantastical elements, it is a deeply human story.
Moon Witch, Spider King is one part violent coming-of-age novel and another part brutalist revenge novel. The world created in these pages is wonderful, well-imagined and in some ways very close to reality ... This is a beautiful novel with well-developed characters enmeshed in a very real and terrifying fight, not only for their lives but also against a cycle of life that repeats from generation to generation ... It also feels like a novel that is two novels. The first, the violent coming-of-age portion ... It’s impressive how much world-building and character development James manages in these pages ... The second half of the novel — the brutalist revenge portion — feels a little like James is working toward the events of Black Panther, Red Wolf. The quick dialogue of the first half begins to sputter a bit as the mission takes shape. And though there is a goal to be achieved, much of the urgency often feels sapped by overlong discussions between the characters. In essence, the second half of Moon Witch, Spider King reads a lot like a prequel to “Black Panther, Red Wolf.” But like any good prequel, it can be read on its own.