Marlon James is a truly incredible writer with a control over language that would be difficult to challenge in the current authorial landscape. He solidified this position with his Booker Prize winning A Brief History of Seven Killings which was also a commercial and critical success. His first in what he calls his ‘African Game of Thrones’, Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a hugely successful continuation of his writing and began a story that is continued here in Moon Witch, Spider King.
Unlike many of the modern trilogies where one may read any and get to grips with the overarching plot line, this novel really requires the reader to have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the first novel to truly appreciate this sub-story.
In Moon Witch, Spider King the mythical landscape of Africa is explored from the perspective of Sogolon. GHer story from childhood is told in James’s characteristic representation of the environment. The Black Leopard, Red Wolf search for the mysterious boy at the centre of the story is reignited through her eyes, but it is so much more than that. James is able to open the reader to the magical world of creatures great and small.
James’s style does take some getting used to, but those who have read the first of the trilogy will have some understanding of this. It is lyrical, poignant and visceral in its construction - but it is not easy for the first few chapters while one gets used to it.
The story is haunting, it is powerful both in its content and by its sheer epic size. It must have taken an immense amount of preparation, drawing together the threads that lead to Sogolon becoming the ultimate female survivor. Her power is matched only by her conviction. It is a misogynistic environment in which she exists, so it is the way that she is able to use the power of the society against itself.
Overall, this is an at-times harrowing, at-times political posturing exploration including a range of magic, corruption, adventure, and connections between people and epic beings. Its dialogue is absolutely brilliant, and the gripping nature of the plot sets up the trilogy for a superb and epic finale.
Reviewer: Chris Reed