USA | Oct 23, 2020

Jamaican Marlon James’ novel makes Time’s ‘100 best fantasy books of all time’

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Marlon James (Photo: Penguin Random House)

  By Durrant Pate

Jamaican author Marlon James is among the toasts of the literary world today, as his fantasy epic novel, ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ has been rated among Time magazine’s ‘100 best fantasy books of all time’.

The novel has also been named a New York Times Best Seller, and a Best Book of 2019 by The Wall Street JournalTimeNPR, GQ, Vogue and The Washington Post. ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ traces the story of what happens when a mercenary, called Tracker, is hired to find a missing child, who disappeared three years earlier.

The book is a fantastical vision of ancient Africa that has been likened to ‘Game of Thrones’ and is the first of a planned ‘Dark Star’ trilogy by James, who is no stranger to Time’s influential lists. Last year he was also named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

Developing the best 100 fantasy book list of all time

To develop the list, the magazine said it began in 2019 by recruiting a panel of leading fantasy authors, comprising Sabaa Tahi, Cassandra Clare, Neil Gaiman, N.K. Jemisin, George R.R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon and Tomi Adeyemi and James himself.

They all worked together with TIME Magazine’s staff members in nominating the top books of the genre, outside of their own works. The magazine stated.”The group then rated 250 nominees on a scale, and using their responses, Time magazine created a ranking.

Cover art for Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

Finally, Time magazine editors considered each finalist based on key factors, including originality, ambition, artistry, critical and popular reception, and influence on the fantasy genre and literature more broadly. In the stunning first novel in James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when the mercenary is hired to find the missing child. 

Details of the book

Based on the book, Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down the 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 child.

The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. According to the epic fantasy novel, 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.

“Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read.”

Time Magazine

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?

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Time magazine argues that “Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read.”

According to the panel, “defying categorisation and full of unforgettable characters, ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound, as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both”. Described as “gripping” and “action-packed”, the book has received several awards, including winner of the LA Times Ray Bradbury Prize, and a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

In concluding, Time magazine stated, “In a year defined by grim reality, we look to artists to help us understand—and escape. Time celebrates the best, most captivating, and essential fantasy books of all time, dating back to the 9th Century.”


What To Read Next