Black Leopard, Red Wolf Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 56-page guide for “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 25 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Storytelling and Truth and Written Texts in Dialogue with Oral Traditions.
Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019) is a dark fantasy novel. It’s the first title in his Dark Star Trilogy, and a fusion of conventional epic storytelling, oral tradition, and creative folklore. A finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, as well as one of Washington Post’s Top Ten Books of 2019, this novel had its film rights purchased only weeks after publication.
An interrogation frames the story: Tracker, a mercenary, recounts his adventures to an unseen Inquisitor. Tracker has a magical sense of smell, not limited by distance or time, and a set of magical protections that make him immune to witchcraft, metal weapons, and poison. Both of these come into play in his testimony.
Tracker starts telling stories. He receives a job to return a runaway wife to her abusive husband, but tells the wife how to poison him. He’s hired to steal the soul of a king from the land of the dead, and he does it, fleeing demons and curses the whole way. None of these stories answer the Inquisitor’s questions, so Tracker goes back to his childhood. Tracker’s father is abusive, so he flees to his uncle’s house, whom he discovers is no better. In the wilderness, Tracker uses his nose to rescue children left to die, which endears him to an “Antiwitch” (xiii), Sangoma, and a shapeshifter named Leopard. Tracker’s friendship with Leopard makes his lover jealous, who then leads Tracker’s uncle’s men to kill the witch and children.
When the story picks up, Tracker is working as a mercenary with one wolf’s eye. Leopard finds him and asks for his help on a new mission: finding a boy stolen from an elder’s house. Many lies about the nature of the boy and the nature of the mission come up, but Tracker agrees, along with Sogolon, a witch; Sadogo, a massive man; and Leopard. Tracker investigates their patron, as well as the scene of the crime, and discovers only more mysteries, including a woman possessed by lightning, and evidence that monsters accompany the boy they are looking for. Tracker kills the minister who gave their patron the mission, Belekun the Big, and sets off, accompanied by a soldier named Mossi.
The party winds through the wilderness, confronting monsters and magicians, until an undead monster knocks them out. Tracker uses his special magic to open one of the Nine and Ten Doors (mystical portals scattered across the land) to escape, which gives Tracker the information he needs to find the monsters. However, it also gives a powerful sorcerer, the King’s advisor, Aesi, their location, and he starts to attack the party’s minds.
Exiting the portal, Tracker directs them towards Dolingo, a city built in the trees, and Sogolon explains the boy is not a slaver’s son, but the son of the King’s sister, Lissisolo, and the rightful heir to the throne.
Dolingo conceals dark secrets: The inhabitants are sterile, and the Queen relies on foreigners for children. These children become slaves and work in the walls of the city. Mossi falls victim to this, but Tracker’s discovery of the enslaved children sparks a revolution, which heads to overthrow the Queen, even as the party heads to meet the monsters holding the boy. They slay the monsters, except for the Ipundulu, a lightning monster, whom Sasabonsam, a huge vampire, drags away along with the boy.
Fleeing the revolution and Aesi, the group follows the monsters to their hiding place. While they succeed in slaying the Ipundulu and driving away the vampire, Aesi catches them, a confrontation that leaves Sogolon missing, but the boy back in the care of his mother.
Three years later, the Sasabonsam returns. With the boy, he kills Mossi and the mingi children. Tracker swears vengeance, and joins with Aesi to find the boy and Sogolon. Leopard tries to stop them, but Aesi and the new Ipundulu, Nyka, easily defeat him. The book concludes with the new Ipundulu sacrificing himself to kill the boy, preventing the king’s dethronement, while Leopard dies in Tracker’s arms. Upon completing his tale, Tracker demands the Inquisitor reveal what exactly happened, according to Sogolon.