Category Archives: fantasy

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

BLRW Title: Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star Trilogy)
Author: Marlon James
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241315583
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 640
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Black Leopard Red Wolf is a piece of art – it needs to be read with such intensity and focus. This came to be as I went along with the read, it sort of grows on you and then you are hooked. I might gush right now, however, you just cannot read it in one sitting – you need time to devour it, embrace it, and most importantly love it. A lot of people have compared it to Tolkien or GRR Martin’s works but let me also tell you that it is extremely different from any of those writers’ creation. It is for one set in several worlds – each complete in their own and not so much – it challenges the reader at every step to figure and know more, only to turn back the pages to make the connect between places and people.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not also be everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that, I would urge everyone who has little interest in literature to read it – only to be aware of what literature is and what it can achieve. With the sheer style of writing, that almost changes with every chapter, the crumbs of information left here and there for the reader to pick up on, and more than anything else it achieves to bring out a lot of emotions in the reader. From love to envy to desire (raging at that), to sometimes even anger towards situations and people caught in it, you just can’t get enough of BLRW.

BLRW is high-fantasy, it is also a book that challenges you, your world, the way you think, and how you most commonly perceive the world to be. It makes you see ancient worlds seeped in African myths that perhaps you weren’t aware of. So in that sense, it also makes you go down the rabbit hole of mythology that makes you a more-aware person at the end of it. For instance, the way James writes about the Anansi Tales or the Sundiata Epic and makes it a part of his story, is what most writers might have struggled with. And it is only the beginning – the first in the Dark Star trilogy, at around six hundred and twenty pages.

What is the book about?

The book is set in several ancient kingdoms. It is the quest for a missing boy. Tracker is one of the questers who has been hired by a mysterious figure to bring the boy back, given the fate of a kingdom. You get to realize this only when you are halfway through the book. So wait for it, and even then James doesn’t give it all away. Tracker isn’t the only one who has been hired. It is a motley crew – a chatty giant, a shape-shifting leopard, a witch, a buffalo, a girl raised to be the food of the ogres, and a water goddess who melts into puddles. Tracker is known for his nose. His nose is known to lead him to any missing person. This is all I shall reveal about him for now. Also, where Tracker is from? Where are the other characters, what is their role to play in this quest, etc are questions that I am sure will be answered in the remaining two parts of the trilogy.

The group dynamics are what one would expect – there is humour, there is conflict – sometimes with little or no resolution, and there is a camaraderie of sorts between them. Marlon’s Tracker and Leopard might be linked to Achilles and Patroclus, but they have so much more rage, fury, and desire.

Also, might I add that the start of the book gives you a list of 80 characters that will appear and reappear throughout the book or the trilogy in this case. While this is intimidating, it is most certainly very helpful to go back to time and again. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is violent, it is not your usual comfort-food story that is based on folktales that heal you. Men, women, and children are raped to death and that in a way only brings out the tenderness of the protagonist. While African mythology is largely at its base, plot, and structure, it is also earthy, salted with stunning chase and fight scenes, unfolding at a very leisurely pace. Marlon James’ world is superlatively unique and that’s what makes Black Leopard, Red Wolf so darn refreshing. I honestly don’t think that it can be compared to any works of high-fantasy. The worlds built – shape and reshape as you the reader, goes along with the book. There are surprises and shocks along the way that make the story tumble on its head, making you wonder as the reader if you ever got it right to begin with.

Might I also add that the queer perspective of the book is brilliant. I have not in my reading of fantasy literature come across a prominent queer protagonist (there are many on the surface and as sidebars to the protagonist, but just someone as complete as Tracker for sure, I haven’t) and Marlon James nails it down pat. The love so to say between Tracker and Leopard is of magnanimous proportions and that can only be understood once you are one-third into the book. For me as a queer reader, it was overwhelming, and full of love. It was the kind of love that I was searching for in fantasy literature but hardly found it and I am extremely glad that Marlon James wrote about it.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a novel that resists categorisation and classification of any kind and rightly so. It is set in a world that is researched brilliantly given the myths handed down from Central and West Africa. It is a world that does not conform to gender. It breaks it to the core. It is a world of political corruption, queer identity, and love and some glorious sex while we are at it, between black men.

A lot of care and thought has gone in the making of these characters. Marlon James really couldn’t be bothered with the relatability aspect, and yet as a reader he leaves it all up to you. Queer love to me is at the heart of this novel – it is beautiful in every single way and stands up against patriarchy. Also, the following two books are versions of the same elements told by other characters – almost like a Rashomon style of telling the story. Yes, there are black fantasy writers such as N.K. Jemisin (whose Broken Earth trilogy also has queer characters), and Walter Mosley, and even Nalo Hopkinson to name a few, however none of them were or are able to bring out the aspect of race and queer identity in the same way that James has.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is to be read for its dejected women – who are brave and fearless and will make their voices heard. Read it for the thrill, adventure, and quest that will grab you by the throat at every single page and not let you go. The plot intricacies that will make you want to reread it at least once more. Read it because it is subtle, in your face, loud, violent, and sexy. You must read it because it is the best you will read this year. Or at least, one of the best. 

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Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiTitle: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1509871353
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5  Stars

Hands down one of the best fantasy I have read in recent times, and by that, I mean in the last fifteen years or so! Children of Blood and Bone is the first part of a series and let me tell you that I just couldn’t get enough of it. While the regular tropes of any high-fantasy exist, it is also an intelligent book and doesn’t spoon-feed the reader at any point of time in the narrative. You must make the effort to read carefully and connect the dots.

The book starts off instantly. There is no build-up as such because Adeyemi has so much to say. I wish I could do justice to the book with this review. I shall try. There are layers and sub-layers in the narrative, with the focal point being magic and how to get it back. The African culture is seeped within in the story so strongly that it is so refreshing to read about it as you go along. Their gods, their way of life, their myths are integrated beautifully by Adeyemi in this tale of the revival of Orïshan magic.

Zélie remembers the time when Orïsha was full of magic – the entire land, and when different clans ruled and each of them had their role to play. And one night, all the magic disappeared. The plot then is to bring back magic to a land without hope and now ruled by a tyrant monarch. As the plot unravels, we see Zélie coping with her doubts when it comes to magic and its revival and more than anything else the one thing she should not be doing and ends up doing anyway.

Adeyemi’s writing is so good. She captures the much-needed gender and social injustices that should be talked about. The oppressed and the oppressor are captured in the most humane way possible with magic lurking in every corner of the page. “Children of Blood and Bone” moves so fast that sometimes you must stop and catch your breath. The characters are varied and not one-dimensional at all. The writing like I said before, is stunning and I for one cannot wait for the second book, which will be a long time coming. A must must read!

 

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD, Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374903343
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

If you’ve read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one. If you haven’t read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one again. “Sourdough” is a mix of almost everything – fantasy, science fiction, satire, literary fiction and a profoundness to it like no other book I’ve read in some time. Robin Sloan somehow manages to roll everything in one and does a pretty good job of it.

“Sourdough” follows the story of a young computer programmer (again), Lois Clary from Michigan into something so dark that it takes you by surprise and also shock in so many places. Lois does nothing but code – all night and sleeps all day. Her human contact is limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood joint from which she orders food every evening. The brothers close shop and it is to Lois to keep their sourdough starter alive. She basically has to learn how to bake with it, which she clearly doesn’t know.

The book is weird. From here on it takes turns and twists that you wouldn’t believe (much in the vein of Mr. Penumbra’s), however, if you read deeper (which I am sure you will at some point), you will find elements of alienation, immigration issues and what it is to be American and not be starkly evident. This book is so weird (I know I am being repetitive but I have to) that at times I didn’t know what I was reading or why. You have to be patient with the prose to be involved so you cannot let go. And might I also add that you would crave sourdough while reading this book, so be prepared.

“Sourdough” cannot be classified into a genre but I have to because I have no choice, really. All I can say is that if you like your reading a little over the edge and funky, you must try this one for sure.

 

 

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911215721
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1785 and merchant Jonah Hancock has to cope with the tragic news that one of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a mermaid. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? I was sold at this premise. But wait a minute. There is more to this story which is more fascinating to me. The side story of Angelica Neal that quickly comes to fore. Neal is London’s most beautiful courtesan who wants to marry rich and secure a future for herself. And who better than Mr. Hancock who has a mermaid to be put on display and make easy money? And all of this is possible through Mrs. Chappell’s brothel (there is more to what meets the eye really) and given she has a soft spot (or so it seems) for Angelica.

Phew! That is not it by the way. There is a lot more going on in the book and let me tell you, that despite its size (500 pages), this is one racy romp of a read. There is a lot of decadence in this book (which I love by the way), there is misery, power, envy and fantasy. If not for the mermaid angle, I would classify this book purely as historic fiction, but let the two merge and work its magic on the reader. Also, might I add the magic of London (and its claustrophobia, its stench, lecherous men and grotesque women) is brought out beautifully by Gowar.

Angelica Neal’s character is so strong that she overpowers everyone else (in some bits and parts) and in a very good way because you’d want her to appear more as the book progresses. There is also a surprise in the form of Polly but I won’t ruin it for you by talking about her. You might want to discover her yourself.

“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is set in a vivid and uproarious time. It is the kind of book that must be read again and more than anything for its female characters that stand out and well-deservedly at that. Mrs. Chappell, Angelica and Polly (there is also Mr. Hancock’s niece who makes a brief appearance) are the heroes of this book in all honesty. This is the kind of book that will keep you up all night and you wouldn’t want it any other way. “The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is all rolled into one – a comfort read (yes, at most times) and a thriller, literary fiction with the much-needed historic setting.

A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic) by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light Title: A Conjuring of Light: A Novel (Shades of Magic)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765387462
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
Pages: 624
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

And now to the last book in the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab, “A Conjuring of Light”. I was so taken in by the earlier two books that I had to read this one soon after I had finished the second one. The balance of Four Londons is clearly at stake in this one, after the black power rises so to say.

Might I also add, that contrary to popular opinion, this was my favourite book in the series, even though it was nothing short of a tome at six hundred plus pages. Just that the characters of Kell and Lila were fully developed in this one and you could so clearly see different shades to them, that I couldn’t help but hoot for the writing.

So here is a brief summary of the plot: An ancient enemy returns to claim a city, as a fallen hero tries very hard to save a kingdom, almost in ruins. And then there is the twist of Lila knowing magic but she doesn’t know how to control it. This is the part of the book that I loved the most. Schwab clearly knows how to spin a tale by bringing in a surprise element and enthralling the reader with it.

The entire excitement of four Londons being involved and equally so in the plot makes this one racier and almost on the edge of your seat fantasy thriller, so to speak. Yes, the writing seems dull in some places, but that was only a minor hindrance as far as I am concerned, given how much I enjoyed reading this one. Schwab clearly has ended the trilogy with precision, closed all open angles to the plot and has given us characters that I certainly would like to know more of, if there is a spin-off series, one which I am most certainly hooting for.