Post Mortem: Black Leopard, Red Wolf - Marlon James
Updated: Dec 28, 2019
Post Mortem: A thourough investigation of a book after its passing. May be used to help determine cause and manner of death, and prevent repeat events in the future.
Subject: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Published by Riverhead Books
Primary Cause of Death: Absolute Vulgarity
“Not everything the eye sees should be spoken by the mouth.” - Quote that pretty much describes my feelings about ¾ of this book
It’s not often that I rate or review a book that I technically haven’t read front to back. Then again, it’s not often either that I deeply and utterly hate a book as much as I did Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I wanted to DNF this from around page 20, but I read almost 400 pages until I allowed myself to skim the rest, so I feel I’ve read enough to form my opinion on it. Many of my friends have given this 5-stars, but unfortunately this book was NOT for me, and went straight from my “most-anticipated-of-2019” to my “worst-reading-experiences-of-all-time”-list.
Let me start of by saying: there was a reason I was anticipating this novel, and some of that anticipation was fulfilled. This is indeed a GoT-like epic fantasy with a dark and gritty, elaborate world. It has its roots in African mythology, which was very awesome indeed, and the plot was actually intriguing to me. HOWEVER:
Allow me to list my reasons for strongly disliking this novel. 1. The protagonist is an absolute rotten-to-the-core asshole The story sets him up to be basically Geralt from the Witcher: a mercenary with a *distinct* personality and a unique skillset, sent off to solve other peoples problems for payment. Except that following Tracker is not like following Geralt, who is gruff but cynically charming in his own way. Following Tracker is more like watching one of those “The Witcher Playthrough, but I go on a killing spree for no reason”-video’s on Youtube. “Oh and not to mention, I rape and torture everybody as well…” If that wasn’t enough reason to hate the main character: he is misogynistic, frighteningly homophobic, immature and completely and utterly obsessed with sex. Now I’m not someone who rates a book 1-star, just because I hate the main character. Yet if you make it to the point where being inside the characters head makes the reading-experience feel like literal torture to the reader: you’re going to get points knocked off my rating.
2. GRAPHIC EVERYTHING!!! No, seriously. Think of any disgusting thing on the top of your head, and it’s probably in here somewhere, described in utter revolting detail. Sex. Rape. Gore. More rape. Animal-abuse/Bestiality. Murder. Mutilation and desecration of bodies. Rape of children… Seriously: the list goes on and on. I consider myself to have a fairly okay tolerance to this sort of thing, even though I don’t enjoy it. For God’s sake Marlon James, I’m a medical intern with a strong stomach, and yet you somehow manage to describe wounds and genitalia in a way that actually grosses me out than actually having to stick my hands into those of real patients. Seriously, that almost merits a congratulation. The worst part is that none of it felt like it was necessary for the plot, or for the message the author wanted to bring across. To me, it felt like it was more for the sake of sensationalism and to “gross-out” the reader. I get wanting to provoke an emotion in a reader, but torture-porn is about the most cheap and vulgar way to do that in my opinion.
3. Unbalanced writing style This is sold as “literary fantasy”, so I can’t review this without mentioning the “literary” part about it. Marlon James sure makes an effort to make some sentences… some hella long sentences… with seemingly as many words in them as possible. Until al of a sudden he doesn’t anymore and we are left with a very simplistic, stocky style that ties us over until the next “literary outburst”. It’s basic writing with occasional pretentious purple prose, and it honestly feels all over the place. Not to mention: if you’re trying to make a literary effort, it doesn’t help to interrupt your flowery, meandering language every 6 sentences with some nice talk of shit, cum, or how the shape of a mountain reminds you of a woman’s labia… Call me a prude, but I don’t think it’s the best match.
4. Pacing issues After (skimming through) the second half, I see a big break in style and pacing between start and finish. The first half could have been, not even halved but quartered. Nothing of great importance to the plot happens during the first 200+ pages, other than establishing the character as an ass. I thing the end is honestly better, but I have to say that I don’t think slugging though the rest of this disturbing and vulgar mess of a start was worth it for me.
Preventable Death? I don't know... Maybe I’m just a feeble-hearted weakling who can’t appreciate the beauty of a masterfully written dark fantasy. I don’t rule it out. If you loved this book: power to you! I’m happy for you. That doesn’t take away that I absolutely hated my experience with this, and I won’t be recommending this to my friends.
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