This is a daunting book to read, and not because of its length or its subject matter or, even, commitment to violence and vulgarity, but because it isn’t written like a book. The tale of Red Wolf (or Tracker, as he prefers to be called) is an oral history told, for the most part, by him to an inquisitor while he’s imprisoned. It covers his formative years as well as the hunt for a very important boy who could determine the fate of kingdoms, as well as the aftermath of that hunt. In keeping with Tracker’s skills and abilities, it is not told well. Tracker is not a griot, and his determination of what is important to the story as well as his interjections and narrative choices are often suspect and tiresome in the way listening to an over-confident dude ramble at length about his life story is. It doesn’t help that he’s kind of a douchebag. I was actually so put off by his misogyny that, at one point, I was going to put the book down for good… but then Marlon James had another character call him out for it. So while the female characters are depicted as deluded at best if not outright villainous, you know it comes from Tracker’s anti-women viewpoint, and not from Mr James’. I’m not sure if everyone appreciates this distinction, or the skill behind it, but I surely do.
Where this book really shines is in its fantasy world-building. Monsters of myth freely roam the African-based world Mr James has built, and people with superpowers, while rare, are a recognized part of life. Tracker is one of these latter, with an ability to track down anyone by scent. It is for his nose that he is brought together with other superpowered individuals in order to track down a stolen boy. The twists and turns wouldn’t be out of place in X-Men comics of the 70s and 80s, if said comics weren’t subject to the Comics Code and were able to get into some really grotesque, awful situations. The truth of Dolingo, especially, will haunt me for a while.
Overall, a worthwhile read, if challenging, and certainly more entertaining than the dismal A Brief History Of Seven Killings for which Mr James has been so lauded. I don’t believe I’ll continue with this series unless I have a lot of free time, however. This took me five days to read even with a Kindle, and I am sorely behind on work reading now.