Book Review – Black Leopard, Red Wolf

I listened to Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James as an audiobook (narrated by Dion Graham), and while this book is technically listed as book 1 in a series, it can be read as a single contained story.

Here is the blurb:

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

I’m torn with my reaction to this book. It was certainly a unique read, but it is very much not going to be for everyone. From the beginning, this book depicts specific violence, including torture, rape, dismemberment of children, slavery, and cannibalism. The themes in this story are dark, and the author doesn’t shy away from any of it.

That being said, the fight scenes are very well-written and I could follow every bit of the brutal action. The fights are also pretty realistic in that they end quickly, the wounds are gory, and the narrator in this audiobook edition is brilliant in terms of his inflection and pacing (actually for more than just the fights).

The story is also full of sexual innuendo and acts, and it covers a full range of sexual preferences. This aspect felt a little unnecessary in a few places, but for the most part fit in with the overall tone of the story.

The timeline in this book is convoluted and Tracker’s story is told as he relates it to an interrogator after all the events. Within this story, parts are told out of order, and I felt like this device wasn’t necessary. It made a complicated plot with an extensive cast harder to follow than it needed to be.

Otherwise, I did actually like this book. Once I had the characters straight in my head I had to read on to discover what was truly going on. Tracker is not privy to the truth behind his search and has to decide who to trust and why everyone wants to find a mysterious boy. There is no clear good and evil here and everyone is acting for their own personal reasons.

This book is noted to be book 1 in The Dark Star Trilogy, but this volume wraps up the main events by the end without any cliffhangers. I can see the potential for a greater story. Given the complicated nature of this book, I’d probably have to reread it before continuing with the series in the future.

Have you read Black Leopard, Red Wolf? Let me know what you thought in the comments. Please follow the links to help support this blog.

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Book Review – Seven Blades in Black

I had never read anything by Sam Sykes, but I liked the description of this book. It featured a woman with a sword, a magical gun, and an attitude, so I thought I might like it. I did acquire this book to review as a courtesy from Net Galley.

Seven Blades in Black is the first book in a new series by Sam Sykes, but you can read the first book on its own and get a solid story. While the main plot isn’t over (by far, I’d guess), the main action of this first book is brought to a close.

Sal the Cacophany is a bounty-hunter with a tragic hidden past. She has tried to put her anger aside so that she can live through each day, but she keeps a list of names of those who wronged her in a pocket, waiting for the day that she can satisfy her vengeance. Meanwhile, she spends her time seeking out renegade Imperial mages known as Vagrants. Having served in the same capacity in her own past, she uses her knowledge to track them down, kill them using a magic gun, and then gathers the Dust from their remains, selling it for profit.

At the beginning of the book, Sal is held captive by the Revolution and is questioned by Governor-Militant Tretta Stern just before her planned execution. The two great powers in the world (the Imperials and the Revolution) have been at war for a long time with little regard for the civilians who struggle in the desolate Scar. Most of the novel is written as Sal relates her recent activities to her captor, forestalling her execution by a few hours and then a few days.

Sal’s tale starts as she tracks down Daiga, a nearby Vagrant. After their fight, she searches his tower and finds a note implying that Jindu, one of the names on her list, is recruiting Vagrants for something sinister. She realizes that she may have a chance to find him this time and the story follows her in her pursuit of her former associates.

Sal inadvertently ends up with two companions: Liette, an artificer and her former/current lover, and Low Sergeant Cavric Proud, a Revolutionary officer who is at first forced to pilot a gigantic armored tank-like device, but later stays because he begins to see his glorious Revolution through a perspective.

While the subject matter in this novel is dark and the protagonist is violent and vengeful, there is a lot of fun in the pages. I mean, Sal rides a giant bird named Congeniality and throws sarcasm around more than is good for her. Her gun, the Cacophany, is a powerful weapon, but also has a sinister aspect to it, communicating to her and becoming upset if she doesn’t kill often enough. But her sword is a plain blade and she has named him Jeff.

This is a long book that requires some attention throughout, but was a satisfying story in a unique setting. When the ending unfolds and the truth of Sal’s past is revealed, I was surprised to find her able to function as much as she does. Her backstory is heartbreaking and with knowledge of Jindu’s goals, she can’t escape confronting it, even beyond her goal of revenge. I’ll definitely pick up the next one in this series.

You can find Seven Blades in Black through my Amazon affiliate link if you’d like to support my blog. There is also a related novella (The Gallows Black) which could supplement your reading, or serve as a sampler before you jump into the longer book. Find other books by Sam Sykes below:

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Book Review – Eridani’s Crown

Eridani’s Crown is a stand-alone fantasy novel by Alex Shvartsman. I received this book as an advance copy to help with proofreading, as I’ve known Alex for a few years through a local critique group. Alex was able to bring this book to publication through the help of Kickstarter.

Eridani and her brother Danchu are the crown prince and princess of Kozhad, a small city-state in the continent known as The Heart. At the beginning of the story, they are studying in Skond, a larger neighboring kindgom. When their home is overthrown and their parents are murdered, the two siblings are forced to flee and manage to stay barely ahead of their pursuit. After betrayal leads to Danchu’s murder, Eridani swears revenge against those who took her homeland.

When further events bring Eridani’s quest to a halt, she seeks the aid of a sorceress. As in much of fantasy, magical assistance has a high price, but at the time, Eridani doesn’t worry much about that. She plunges forward and leads her people to a series of victories.

Eridani is faced with a series of tough decisions that bring her goals into conflict with her loyalties. I can’t write anything more detailed about the plot without giving too much away at this point. She faces a prophecy brought on by her dealings in magic, but refuses to treat it as a serious consequence.

The events that unfold later become more unsettling. Eridani comes to learn what price she has paid for her power, and how the prophecy has affected her. While this story appears to be a more traditional fantasy tale in the opening sections, it turns into more of a character study as it progresses toward a bleak ending.

I prefer more upbeat stories in general, but the author does a good job in convincingly portraying the changes that occur with Eridani. I found myself rooting for her to win, but then even when I didn’t agree with her decisions, I still sympathized with her until nearly the end. This book will likely appeal to those who prefer a more grim take on traditional fantasy.

Fortunately, if you missed the Kickstarter, you can still pick up a copy as an e-book or in print. Use my Amazon affiliate link, and help support my blog, or check out some of Alex’s other books below.

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