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Black Leopard, Red Wolf

The Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Narrated by: Dion Graham
Series: The Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Length: 24 hrs and 2 mins
Categories: Fiction, African-American
4 out of 5 stars (725 ratings)

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Interview: Listen in as Marlon James talks about why his epic Black Leopard, Red Wolf is expertly brought to life in audio, and shares where his Dark Star Trilogy is going next.

[Narrator Dion Graham] just has so much dynamics and range...

  • Black Leopard, Red Wolf
  • [Narrator Dion Graham] just has so much dynamics and range...

Publisher's Summary

Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award

The New York Times best seller

"A fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made." (Neil Gaiman)

"Gripping, action-packed.... The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

The epic novel, an African Game of Thrones, from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

In the stunning first novel in Marlon James' Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child.

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.

©2019 Marlon James (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“The first volume of a promised trilogy, a fabulist reimagining of Africa, with inevitable echoes of Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and Black Panther, but highly original, its language surging with power, its imagination all-encompassing.... Marlon is a writer who must be read.” (Salman Rushdie, Time)

“James’ visions don’t jettison you from reality so much as they trap you in his mad-genius, mercurial mind.... Drenched in African myth and folklore, and set in an astonishingly realized pre-colonized sub-Saharan region, Black Leopard crawls with creatures and erects kingdoms unlike any I’ve read.... This is a revolutionary book.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“Fantasy fiction gets a shot of adrenaline.” (Newsday)

Editor's Pick

You will hear more about this series
"I’m not claiming any credit for finding this one, as it has already become something of a movement, but I am definitely swept up in the transcendent force that is Marlon James and Dion Graham. I saw Neil Gaiman described the setting as "hallucinatory," and I haven’t heard a more apt description, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is an aimless, vague, or overly literary effort. It is absolutely riveting: My "listening hours per day" have more than tripled since I started listening to Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Word is Marlon James spent a long time researching African languages as well, and Dion Graham just nails all of the different accents. But the merits of Graham’s performance aren’t limited to language or accents. In every minute there is a new threat, a new scheme, and a new astoundingly unique voice; be it beast, witch, demi-god, or amorphous liquid assassin. I can only imagine Graham took a good break after this performance because the sheer number of different voices would put any narrator to the test, and he aced it." —Micahel D., Audible Editor

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

no...I need a break

I never write a review unless I finish a book because I believe it to be unfair to the author and narrator. However, after 10+ hours of audio, I can't see myself continuing with another 14 hours. I've seen some refer to this novel as an "African Game of Thrones," but I don't see the resemblance. I usually like long and complicated works, but not this time.

I'm a fan of the narrator, Dion Graham. I've listened to several of his performances, including Washington Black, The Force, and American War. However, his accent is so thick in this performance that the listener has to focus on every word to understand it, and even then, some parts I miss. I get why the accent is used, and it gets a little easier to understand as you get used to it, but I'm just tired of this novel.....for now. There's so many character names and names of places, and it's hard to know what's happening half the time. The novel has its moments, but they are too spread out. I will pick this one back up at some point and try to finish the remaining 14 hours, but for now, I need a break from it. I will revise this review upon completion of the book.

Overall rating of the first 10 hours: 2.93 stars

39 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Opaque. And hard to care about.

After reading the New Yorker's profile of Marlon James, and seeing Neil Gaiman's blurb, I had extremely high hopes for this book: "An African 'Game of Thrones,'" people were calling it -- or maybe, given James' literary pedigree, an African "American Gods." I was hoping for a smart, fast-moving page-turner. (Or the audio equivalent of a page-turner, anyway.)

That's not this book. It's more like a really long tone poem related to African mythology. I stuck with it a long time, assuming that all my confusion would be resolved, that soon the new world being conjured would snap into focus and I'd start caring about all the violent action. That doesn't happen.

Dion Graham's voice was marvelous. But a marvelous voice alone can't sustain a 24-hour-long audiobook.

94 of 110 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

The most difficult book I've read recently

This book. I want to give this book five stars and one star at the same time.

I first heard Marlon James' name in a podcast interviewing him about his process in his studio. I was intrigued by the premise of his fantasy trilogy and made a note to look for it in the coming years. I had not read any of his previous work and did not read or research it. A month before this book's release excited puff pieces peppered my news feed to let me know that the book at last was coming. I had read Game of Thrones and other prominent fantasy, but I was not prepared for what this book actually is.

Chapter Two almost made me put the book away in disgust. Reviewers often write about how gruesome and repulsive the violence is, but no one writes about the sexual perversion of all kinds. The harshest language bombards the reader incessantly. Bodies are mutilated, mangled, eaten, broken, possessed, defiled, mutated, and almost always naked. I am exhausted emotionally and spiritually just thinking about this book.

Some time around a fifth or a quarter of the way through the book I took a break to see what others had written about it. Those reviews led me to pieces on Mr. James himself. These articles on the author were immediately more engaging that the fiction I was reading, and the book became a part of a larger narrative of storytelling. I went back to it, but at a more deliberate pace.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is composed in six parts, but feels to be three-possibly four-acts. The setup ends and brusquely transitions into high fantasy journey epic à la The Fellowship of the Ring. For all the talk of A Song of Ice and Fire this book reminded me much more of Tolkien. Maybe it is just because the author is not afraid to use the word "fellowship" more than once. The story is a story punctuated by other stories and holding more stories. This format leads to confusion and discouragement in the first half before congealing into something powerful and satisfying in the final act.

It has been said the protagonist is hard to like. The book takes most of its 600 plus pages to get to the payoff and a final desperate attempt to either change your feelings or cement them. Multiple times the story ends only to have it resume at a later point with the characters cast in a new light. Each time you are left to guess until things are finally made clear. This book is mystery surrounding adventure, fantasy, and horror with a touch of science fiction. It is literary and dramatic. It is repulsive and incredibly difficult yet powerful and possibly galvanizing. It is the first part of a trilogy in which each book will tell the same story from a different perspective. I will be reading the second book, but Marlon James, please take your time. It will be a while before I am ready for it.

A note on the book format:
Can there be a right way to read this book? The hardcover has what feel like dangerously thin pages to disguise the length. It also seemed like the text on the other side of the page can be seen too easily. What the hardcover does have is maps and a most helpful cast of characters (and a beautiful jacket). I listened to the audiobook, but I went to the store to take pictures of the supplementary materials in the hardcover. The audiobook (at least my pre-order copy from Audible) bizarrely has multiple spots that cut in the middle of a word to what seems like a sentence or two later. Then there is the reader. Mr. Dion Graham is incredible. It took me some time to understand him clearly, and in the beginning many of his character voices are too similar, but he performs this book as much more than just a reading. The range of emotion and theatricality of his performance adds to the book far more than any other audiobook I have experienced. For all the highs though, I often struggled listening in the car because he frequently dropped to an actual whisper or exploded into shouting. See me driving one hand on the wheel one hand on the volume knob. Still, what a performance! Thank you, Mr. Graham.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Compelling, dark, sometimes hard to follow audio

An epic quest the rescue the rightful king of a nation full of magical creatures as told by an extremely unreliable narrator. It sucked me in right away, and Mr. Graham's narration is brilliant. However, since I was not familiar with the characters, setting, or the various mythologies of the African diaspora that the magic in the book draws from, I found the audio very hard to follow on its own. I ended up reading a section of book via Kindle, then listening to the audio of it, and so very much enjoyed Mr. Graham's theatricality without feeling lost.

The book can also be dark to the point of being off-putting. Since so many make the Game of Thrones comparison, I can't help but point out that Tracker's tale is actually far more brutal than anything George R. R. Martin dreamed up. Almost every page contains a murder, a torture, a rape, or sex with an adolescent. Even consensual sex between men of the same age is often described in grotesque terms, like Tracker detailing the foul smell of a man's butt crack as he licks it. Points for accuracy, I suppose.

The timeline of the story is also hard to follow, but that's because Tracker is the most unreliable of narrators. As he says multiple times, he is not telling the truth because what his audience wants is a story. The threads come mostly together by the end, though.

Overall, this book is amazing and you've probably never read anything like it previously. It's also extremely dark, and takes some effort to follow.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Complex. Fascinating.

Lots of moving parts here. If I don't pay attention to every part, I'll miss something important. But I think it's definitely worth thinking through the myriad details. What I love is that the author combines many African worldviews in this fantasy. And as always, Graham is impeccable in his narration. If you like African SciFi, this is a must read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

good story, gets a little repetitive and confusing

good story, gets a little repetitive and confusing making out all the characters. Fthegods if I had to re read chapters to get it clear what witch the main character was referring too since all females in this book are W's instead of B's. in the beginning it draws you in deep but Midway it leaves you with a desire to be done with the main character constantly running his tongue. reminds me of my mom's saying a hard head or a wagging tongue makes a soft ass. anyway I tell you true somewhere past chapter 15 you may have dreams of killing them all. but you must keep reading to the end an end that leaves you feeling like that's the end.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Not your father’s Game of Thrones

The mythology and cultures this book draws from is not what most of us are familiar with. This may be off putting to some. I found this book to be wonderful in many ways. But also challenging to get into. If I hadn’t been familiar with James’ last great book I might have bailed. Ultimately well worth the effort.

Narration was a little difficult for me to understand sometimes because of the accents used and the many exotic names and places. I imagine this is how the author wanted it read, and it got easier for me after a couple of hours, so I don’t disagree with the choice, but I used a hard copy to read along with most of the time and that made the audiobook much more enjoyable for me.

29 of 38 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Rape an violence against children

I like Game of thrones so I don't think I should be considered squeamish, but I couldn't get through the first chapter. It immediately starts talking of horrific things against children which is very distasteful to me. I understand that different people have different opinions just wanted to warn others that might feel as I do.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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book is great but the performance is Emmy worthy

I always read and listen and this book is so well narrated it's better to listen. Dion Graham is the best narrator I've ever heard. He acted the whole thing. Incredible.

Warning this book is violent and racy. But very moving, powerful and we'll written.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Refreshingly unique dive into fantasy

This book is not for the feint of heart. But if you are a fan of darker more realistic fantasythis absolutely worth your time and money.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful