I love fantasy and was excited to try this book- it had all the makings of a classic fantasy epic. A group of misfits, each with their own special skill, trying to work together to find a kidnapped child who seems to be important to warring groups of royals. African history and mythology coming to life as our group crosses the land and fights demons, vampires, magic, and each other.
It took me about one hundred pages to start getting into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The writing style took a lot of getting used to, not just because it is told as if the narrator is telling stories, but because he jumps around. There's no chronological order, we don't really meet characters as much as they just appear, and things are rarely explained or described. When Tracker finally gets to telling us the story of him getting paid to join up with a group searching for a child who was kidnapped three years ago, the pace picks up and the story gets (mostly) easier to follow. We still don't really know who any of the characters are, or why they are doing anything. We get a lot of stories to explain why things happen and who people are but it's also understood pretty much up front that at least half of what anyone says will be a lie. The end result being I didn't have much of an emotional connection to any of the characters and liked them even less- including Tracker, who despite being our narrator isn't likable but instead is mostly an arrogant, misogynistic jerk even to the few characters who try to get along with him.
Pages of descriptions still left me with no image in my head of what I was supposed to be seeing during the traveling, many of the magical beings met along the way got no description because Tracker assumes we know what he's talking about. But let it come to killing something/one, rape, torture, or any other horrible thing and don't worry- those episodes get described in such minute detail you can smell the blood and guts.
There were times when I enjoyed the story-telling narrative, when it reminded me of The Odyssey as Homer describes travels and magics and wonders. But more often the technical aspects of the book were distracting and what I ended up focusing on more than the story. If it had been a more 'conventional' narrative, would I have liked the book better? No, I don't think so. Basically it comes down the fact that this was a raw, gritty, dark fantasy and I am not a fan of dark fantasy. I can handle violence is small doses but Red Wolf gives us huge overdoses. Friends become enemies, enemies fight as allies, and it is jarring each time because we only get the story of 'why' afterwards. Far before we get to the end we find ourselves asking what the point of all of it was. Maybe that is the point, maybe the book is meant to be a philosophical questioning of who we are and what is truth and why do people do anything. But when I end a book asking myself "This is how it ended? What was the point of this?" it's pretty certain I'm not going to read the rest of the series to find out out.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf is 600 pages of raw violence, betrayal, rape, gang rape, torture, and killing surrounding a quest you're never sure the point of. The technicalities of the writing probably mean some people will love it and others will hate it. Those who enjoy dark fantasy may like the story, but readers hoping for something lighter, uplifting, or positive should probably steer clear of this one. I rather wish I had.
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