A MYTHIC WORLD. A LOST CHILD. A 177-YEAR-OLD WITCH. A DEADLY REGAL CHANCELLOR. A MYSTERY WITH MANY ANSWERS.
Part adventure tale, part chronicle of an indomitable woman – the witch Sogolon – who bows to no man, this is an unforgettable exploration of power, personality, and the places where they overlap, set in a world at once ancient and startlingly modern.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The first word that comes to mind when I come to describe Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James is ‘ambitious’. It is so multifaceted and so complex in the story it weaves that I am still wrapping my head around it all. I am, quite frankly, in awe of Marlon James’ skill with words and especially the way his writing is so hypnotic even when you’re a bit lost within the plot and the grammar isn’t the standard English you’re accustomed to. I am also very impressed at the way James has created two characters that are so compelling from their own perspective and so antagonistic from the other’s point of view.
In the first book in this trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the story of a missing boy and a group of mercenaries hired to find him is told by Tracker, a man with a wolf’s eye who ‘has a nose’ and can sniff something out from the slightest scent even months after it has disappeared. I loved Tracker’s story and being inside his head, so I was curious to find out what it would be like to read about the same events from the perspective of one of his rivals: the witch Sogolon. Though, if you read her story, you’ll see that the word witch doesn’t truly describe her. Her story begins many years before that of Tracker, and my worry about reading the same exact story told by someone else evaporated very quickly; Sogolon, in her meandering way, takes us to her childhood living in a termite hill, abused by her brothers because her birth killed their mother. Hers is a sorry existence, but you can feel the strength coming off of her even during her miserable times.
And those are many… she endures many masters, escaping one only to be taken up by the next, forced to grow up before her time, trying to understand the world and the mysterious force she sometimes exhibits. Through one of her masters she is taken to the court of Fasisi, the seat of the King of the North, and gifted to the King’s Sister. For me, this was the moment things truly kicked off – though the build up was necessary – as I loved the intrigue of the court and all the political schemes regarding the true Line of Kings and the mysterious chancellor that shadows the throne rang a bell from my time reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf. It was really interesting to be able to see all the politics from the front row, because Tracker always gets the information second hand, but Sogolon was there. Reading her story was like shining a bright torch onto the plot of Tracker’s story, but his side was necessary before everything could be peeled back and revealed. As I said, the complexity and the way its handled is truly impressive.
The other impressive thing about this book is the world-building. Marlon James has created such an inactivate world that feels so real, and each city has its own personality. The cool thing about following Sogolon, a woman who lives much longer than the average lifespan, is seeing how the kingdoms and cities change as well. It all feels very organic and probably part of the reason why both Tracker and Sogolon’s stories have lingered with me long after I turn the last page. The world of the Dark Star Trilogy is a cruel one, with monsters, power-hungry kings, and men ready to take advantage of any girl or woman they can. But it is also incredibly fascinating, with floating cities, shapeshifters, magic portals, and even a dragon. There is always some new facet to uncover, and I can’t wait to discover which direction the third book in the series will take.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf was the first book I ever reviewed on this blog, so if you want a refresher or an idea of the general plot do check out that post! Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and start the series again!
Published: 3rd March 2022 by Penguin Books Ltd
Series: The Dark Star Trilogy, book two
Narration style: third and first person
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: violence, sexual violence, rape, child abuse, blood, torture, impaling, enslavement, grief