Get a free audiobook

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

The Dark Star Trilogy, Book 1
Written by: Marlon James
Narrated by: Dion Graham
Length: 24 hrs and 2 mins
4 out of 5 stars (35 ratings)

CDN$ 14.95/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

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's 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

What the critics say

“Marlon James is one of those novelists who aren’t afraid to give a performance, to change the states of language from viscous to gushing to grand, to get all the way inside the people he’s created.... [Black Leopard, Red Wolf] looks like another great, big tale of death, murder and mystery but more mystically fantastical.... Not only does this book come with a hefty cast of characters (like Seven Killings), there are also shape shifters, fairies, trolls, and, apparently, a map. The map might be handy. But it might be the opposite of why you come to James - to get lost in him.” (The New York Times)

“James is a professed fantasy nerd, so Black Leopard, Red Wolf will certainly appeal to fans of all the well-acknowledged authors with at least two initials - George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, etc. But if you’ve read James’ 2014 novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (decidedly not a sci-fi or fantasy book but a 700-page world-building epic about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley), you’ll drag yourself to the midnight queue to buy Black Leopard regardless of the whole Game of Thrones selling point.” (Huffington Post

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realized I was missing until I read it. A dangerous, hallucinatory, ancient Africa, which becomes a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter's. It's as deep and crafty as Gene Wolfe, bloodier than Robert E. Howard, and all Marlon James. It's something very new that feels old, in the best way. I cannot wait for the next installment.” (Neil Gaiman)

“James' sensual, beautifully rendered prose and sweeping, precisely detailed narrative cast their own transfixing spell upon the reader. He not only brings a fresh multicultural perspective to a grand fantasy subgenre, but also broadens the genre's psychological and metaphysical possibilities. If this first volume is any indication, James' trilogy could become one of the most talked-about and influential adventure epics since George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire was transformed into Game of Thrones.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)  

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    18
  • 4 Stars
    7
  • 3 Stars
    4
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    4

Performance

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    24
  • 4 Stars
    2
  • 3 Stars
    4
  • 2 Stars
    2
  • 1 Stars
    3

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    16
  • 4 Stars
    6
  • 3 Stars
    5
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    4
Sort by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

confusing

great writing, stellar performance....but so very confusing. not easy to follow though I enjoyed all the character interactions. a weird one for sure

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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

It's bad.

I really wanted to like this book. I've heard good things about James' writing, and I have been excited for the idea of an African-inspired fantasy series since the first time I was made aware of how narrow the lens of fantasy novels tends to be. I guess I'll keep waiting for a good one.

The setting is actually pretty interesting and exciting. Sprawling city-states, warring tribes, shapechangers, monsters inspired out of Pan-African lore. I really dig that part of it, and James does a lot of work in making the world feel real and lived in. Many of the characters are also very good, with complex backgrounds, and differing motivations. The integration of the fantasy elements with otherwise grounded characters is basically seamless.

The story, on the other hand, is rambling and dull. Most scenes are just characters telling each other about interesting things they did on the way to get wherever they are. James writes action scenes like someone who has heard about them, but never actually read one, and many of the fights and chases feel like they have no stakes, like the characters involved don't have anything to win or lose that matters, like 80s action movies, where the "hero" just kills dozens of faceless goons because some producer said "you need an action beat here."

There are enormous, rambling digressions throughout the book, suggesting the worst indulgences of Lord of the Rings. Characters appear, sidetrack the story, and then are defeated without significant consequences, apparently for the sole purpose of "tourism."

The reader is quite talented, giving distinct voices to each character, and allowing his performance to tell you something about that character's size, age, and attitudes. However, when a character speaks quickly, he speaks quickly. When a character whispers, he whispers. If you're listening while walking, driving, or working out, you WILL miss things, and sometimes need to adjust the volume multiple times in a chapter. I found this very frustrating.

Overall, I can't recommend this book. But I do hope that someone reads it and decides they want to do something similar, but better, so I can read that one.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Good not great

At times gripping and unlike anything I’ve ever read. At times hard to follow and you have to be a fan of magical realism to really enjoy this book-which I’m not. It took me a while to get attuned to the narrator (had to slow the narration speed for the first hour) - but by the end I thought the narrator did a phenomenal job bringing the numerous characters to life.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

bad story not interesting could not get into it.

hated it. bad story made no sense could not get into it. tried to complete but could not

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

Absolutely incredible

This book is easily among the most unexpected and wonderful books I’ve ever read. It was an absolute delight to experience it from top to bottom.

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

So Incredible!!!

This is one of the best audiobooks that I've ever had the pleasure of listening to!

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

one of the best readers of any audiobook

the reader, Dion James is exceptional. his performance is next level. I will listen to anything else he reads.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Carey Nelson
  • 2019-05-03

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.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Lisa Gray
  • 2019-02-07

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.

92 of 107 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • j phillips
  • 2019-02-26

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: 2.74 stars

33 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • J. D. Brook
  • 2019-05-26

ugh.

I wanted to love it, but couldn't.
I wanted to hate it, but couldn't.
The depictions of violence were enthralling and creative, but became monotonous.
The overall story arc was compelling and in times ingenious. Absolutely loved the interwoven African mythology references.
The word-smithing: brilliant. As was the audio performance of Dion Graham.
The homo-erotica was simply not my bag. If that's your thing, then rock on.
I saw it through to the end, but am not interested in sequels. Too bad considering the 24 hour investment.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • T. Davis
  • 2019-04-01

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • The Altinutt
  • 2019-03-19

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.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Consumer X
  • 2019-03-13

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
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • A. Cohen
  • 2019-02-08

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Sarah
  • 2019-03-16

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.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Sydney
  • 2019-04-02

A great adventure into another world

This fantasy novel really does put you in a fantasy world. It was refreshing reading an African fantasy novel. There was so much emotion in this book that the narrator did a great job getting out especially with all of the different characters. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen. Hope Michael B. Jordan and his team really make this book come to life.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful