Sophie Hilker ’20

Professor Marlon James’ new fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, published by Riverhead Books and released on February 5th, has already set the literary world buzzing. Heralded as the “African Game of Thrones” and a contemporary of Black Panther, the book has garnered rave reviews from The Huffington Post,, and the likes of Neil Gaiman and Louise Erdrich. Gaiman praised the “fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter’s” and Erdrich added, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a fabulous cascade of storytelling. Sink right in. I guarantee you will be swept downstream.” Both authors cannot wait for the next installment.

The first book in the Dark Star Trilogy (to be succeeded by Moon Witch, Night Devil and The Boy and the Dark Star), Black Leopard, Red Wolf follows Tracker, a man whose nose can sniff out a person’s life story and track their scent from miles away, who, along with seven other mercenaries, is hired to find a boy who disappeared three years ago. But as states, “the plot isn’t really the plot. Finding the boy provides the skeleton, but the muscles, blood, and heat come from everything that happens along the way.” As Tracker and his motley crew trek across an ancient, fantastical Africa, through forests and rivers, met by vampires who hunt during the day and turn one’s blood to blue lightning, Werehyenas, children made of air and dust, and demons whose screeches haunt the night, he begins 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?

All three novels, narrated by different titular characters some time after the nine year search for the boy began, tell the same story from different perspectives. James has revealed that the chain of events may differ between the tellings, but he won’t tell readers which version of events is the truth. The series, which James has been working on since 2014, challenges preconceived notions about the coexistence of fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction, as well as perceptions of truth and objectivity. He says the book was born both from a lack of representation in the fantasy and sci-fi genres that he felt needed to be addressed, as well as from a deep personal passion for these genres. James tells Entertainment Weekly, “I really believe you should write the books you want to read. And the fantasy nerd in me would have given an eye tooth to geek out on a sword and sorcery book with people like me in it. But to write this book I had to unlearn everything — about how language works, character works, story works, even how truth works.”

The official the official book launch will take place in New York City, but James will be traveling across the country on tour until March 18. He will be stopping by St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater on February 13th to sit down and talk with MPR on The Thread. This event is open to the public, with tickets starting at $25.