I want to try out something a little more informal today. This rant may or may not turn out to be so mini; we’ll see. Rather than taking a deep-dive into why I despised a book (example: my R.L. Stine reviews), I’m just going to pop-off and ramble about various things I disliked. I don’t even know if this will make sense, so buckle up!
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (2019, Riverhead Books)
Full disclosure, I only read part one – to page 93. This is my 4th DNF of the year.
I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this one and I wasn’t confident I would love it, so I held off on buying it. I happened to stumble upon it at a used bookshop for $6 and figured that was the best time to give it a go. It’s a beautifully designed book, after all, and it’s heavy, with thin smooth pages, and it’s nice a floppy.
Something else that’s nice and floppy? The main character’s dick.
Anyway – after I hauled this, it was really calling to me. I kept thinking about when I might read it, then just decided to read it. So I started it the day after I purchased it. I was immediately wary of the 4-page character list (and the font isn’t huge.)
Shortly thereafter, I was totally clueless as to what the fuck was happening. Our narrator, who I think is the character “Tracker” (apparently not known by anything else), starts right off by saying “The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.”
He then launches into a whole bunch of bullshit and even more talk about his dick, other dicks, and people having sex. I thought there was nothing else to know?! Why start a 600-page book like that?
I roughly described this book to a friend on the phone as:
Ok so it’s some guy telling a story, and there’s a pedophile king and he did something to a boy and a girl, but the boy is dead, and some guy has to tell that to the queen. I don’t know if that’s the boy from the pedophile king. But the boy is dead and the guy has to tell the queen and if he tells her, he has to die, even though he didn’t kill the boy, but because he’s the messenger, he has to die so he might as well have killed the kid, whoever he is. And there’s some priest the guy is talking to, so like, am I the priest? The priest is a pedophile too? And the narrator is already in jail and then he killed more guards, but he’s still in a jail and he’s telling this whole story about how he wished he killed the boy because he’s in jail?
That was before all the dick-talk started.
Our narrator is uncircumcised. I think there is some cultural significance to that, or maybe something from the legends this book is apparently influenced by. That’s all well and good, but I really don’t need to feel like some dude’s peen is the other main character of the book. I am in no way speaking out against the queer characters in this book. But if I want to read smut, I will read smut. I was expecting a sort of mythical fantasy, not several references to Tracker’s hog, and the state of its wholeness, his friend’s sausage, and his friend and some were-leopard going to pound town while Tracker watches with jealousy. Maybe if Tracker’s dangle had been included on the character list, it would have given me some inDICKation as to what the forthcoming tale had in store for me.
All dicks aside, nothing in this book made sense for me. I didn’t connect with any of the characters. Hell, I didn’t even have a sense of who they were. And the female characters seemed to be pretty disposable. They were looked down upon by the men, mistreated, abused. I’m not sure if this was a conscious choice, but I’m tired of that trope in the fantasy genre. At one point, Tracker can apparently smell the breast milk of some woman (as well as her b.o.) and as soon as Tracker sees her, he comments on the un-lanky-ness of one of her breasts. Later, Tracker meets another woman who happens to be breast feeding when she meets him, so he uses the opportunity to talk about her tits as well. Maybe later in the book, women get to be more than just dolls and walking tits, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out.
I know people are giving this book a lot of praise and comparing it to A Song of Ice and Fire. I didn’t catch that comparison, but that’s because I love ASOIAF. I’m in the ‘this is pretentious tripe’ camp. The conversations between characters made zero sense to me. They felt jilted and nonsensical. All I got out of the plot was that Tracker was tracking someone, I guess, and he wanted to bone the leopard and he liked thinking about his wang. The narrator had a bit of a Kvothe feel – another character I didn’t like, who also felt pretentious.
Look, if you like this book – that’s great. But after not even 100 pages, I hadn’t the slightest clue what the fuck was going on and the tone/writing was making me feel stupid. It made me feel like if I was truly into ~literature~ then I’d like this book. No time for bad books (relax – this means books I’m not enjoying too), so I had to DNF!
Thoughts? If you liked the book, let me know why; I genuinely want to know. If you disliked the book, let’s rant about it together!