Moon Witch, Spider King
Dark Star Trilogy 2
by Marlon James
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Pub Date 3 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 3 Mar 2022
A MYTHIC WORLD. A LOST CHILD. A 177-YEAR-OLD WITCH. A DEADLY REGAL CHANCELLOR. A MYSTERY WITH MANY ANSWERS.
In this mighty follow-up to his Number 1 bestseller Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Man Booker-winner Marlon James once gain draws on a rich tradition of African mythology, fantasy and history, to imagine a vibrantly original epic. Part adventure tale, part chronicle of an indomitable woman, Moon Witch, Spider King conjures a world of brutality and lust, power and vengeance, myth and magic.
A literary tour-de-force, Marlon James’s revolutionary Dark Star Trilogy is an unforgettable exploration of power, personality, and the places where they overlap, set in a world at once ancient and startlingly modern.
'Stories as ambitiously made up as this aren't expected to so intensely engage the shifting natures of truth and reality. This one does . . . This second volume in a projected trilogy set in a boldly imagined, opulently apportioned ancient Africa shows that the Man Booker Prize–winning novelist is building something deeper and more profoundly innovative within the swords-and-sorcery genre . . . So much is densely packed into this narrative that it sometimes threatens to leave the reader gasping for breath, especially at the start. But . . . . James’ tale picks up speed with beautifully orchestrated (and ferociously violent) set pieces and language both vivid and poetic. The second part of this trilogy is darker and, in many ways, more moving than its predecessor' Kirkus, starred review
PRAISE FOR BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF
'A dangerous, hallucinatory, ancient Africa, which becomes a fantasy world as well-realised as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter's. I cannot wait for the next instalment' Neil Gaiman
'Complex, lyrical, moving and furiously gripping' Observer
'A game-changing modern fantasy classic' Financial Times
'What marks James's tale as his own is the wonder evoked through descriptive, unrelenting prose along with a focus on a distinct mythology cobbled from history and folk tale. [A] propulsive narrative' Guardian
'A work of literary magic' Bernardine Evaristo
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 46 members
Moon Witch, Spider King is the second part of a trilogy. I love the narrative voice of Sogolon the Moon Witch as she navigates her way through the mythical African landscape; she's such a bolshy, intriguing, no-nonsense character (which makes sense for someone who is 177 years old..). I thought it was really clever how this second book is the story of the boy's disappearance from her perspective. Having not read the first book (Black Leopard, Red Wolf), it took me a chapter or two to understand the world setting and plot but by the end of the book, I felt like I had a full grasp of the world and cannot wait for the third in the series!! The world building is exceptionally well done and feels authentic and consistent throughout. I really enjoyed the relationship between the Moon Witch and the Tracker as they battle personalities. I wonder if we might see it from Aesi's perspective next?! Either way, I will be reading the first book now and recommending the second on publication day!
I found MWSK far more accessible than book 1, because it has a (mostly) straightforward narrative structure without compromising on its distinctive style. I also found a female perspective to be refreshing in what is a hypermasculine and quite unpleasant world - Sogolon is suitably complicated and has a satisfying (if horrifying) arc. However, the latter phases, where it interweaves with the series' plot as a whole, get far messier: the structure becomes less clear, there are so many things to remember, and it just feels like Sogolon witnessing someone else's story. This made the final run of chapters quite slow and a little unrewarding. But overall this has convinced me on the importance of this series, making me eager for the final instalment, but also just excited to revisit Black Leopard, Red Wolf. This will always be a challenging read, but deservedly so.
Moon Witch, Spider King has all of the bloodthirsty excitement and magical realism of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, but with Sogolon as our new narrator we're able to see things with a lot more clarity. The language structure and timeline are far more cohesive and Sogolon's narrative is a breath of fresh air after Tracker's sexism and brutality (but don't be fooled – she's also dealing with brutality and sexism, just from the other side). Fans of the first book won't be disappointed.
Initially I was concerned about The Dark Star series being three tales of the same story, but James has managed to avoid repetition by having Sogolon's story start many years before Tracker's. (For context: it is roughly 640 pages and we only join the search for The Boy around the 500 pages mark.)
It was interesting to be introduced to the backstory of the royalty, and we got a lot more detail about the Aesi and the gods working in the shadows. Even once the search for The Boy had begun, because the group often split up, there were a lot of unique perspectives and nothing felt too repetitive. The scenes that had to be included in both renditions were also fairly brief and thus managed to feel more nostalgic than annoying.
The final section worked to pull the threads of the stories together – and it was interesting to hear Sogolon's take on Tracker's story, calling him out where he'd been lying and confirming him as the unreliable narrator we all knew he was.
James has created exactly what he set out to do – an epic fantasy on the scale of LOTR, with a truly unique voice that refreshes the genre. I'm already keeping an eye out for the third instalment, and wondering whose side of the story we'll hear next.
I am…just bereft. Marlon James has done it again.
Black Leopard Red Wolf is my favourite book of all time, so I was both desperate for and hesitant about this sequel. I knew it would re-tell the story from Sogolon’s point of view and I didn’t know whether I really wanted that, I was happy with the story as it was, right?
Moon Witch Spider King is more than just a re-telling. It’s a contextualisation, a deepening of the world and an expansion of the mythology, as well as an origin story to a character who dominates all the pages she’s on.
Sogolon is a character who’s tough to love but impossible not to root for as you follow her through misery and suffering and love onto ultimately a path of vengeance. The world James has created is deeply misogynistic, and to see it through the eyes of a woman who wields as much violence as is wielded against her made for fantastic reading.
This book is more interested in the politics of it all than Black Leopard was. While Sogolon herself doesn’t care for royal intrigue and power plays, she’s sucked into the world and gives us an expansive insight into the politics of the kingdom.
While the backstory elements are gripping and make for an interesting read, for me Moon Witch really comes alive in its back half. I’m not going to spoil anything, but it takes the story from a simple retelling to a larger statement on truth and memory. It takes the phrase ‘unreliable narrator’ and runs with it to the hills, making you question everything you thought you knew from the previous book.
I have so many thoughts and even more questions, and will remain on edge until the final book comes out. Until then I might have to go and re-read Black Leopard Red Wolf….
About the book:
Sogolon, the Moon Witch, tells the story of what happened to the boy (from Black Leopard, Red Wolf), and everything she had to endure in her search for him. There's also a century-long feud between Sogolon and Aesi, the king's chancellor. Aesi's power is immense—and lethal. It takes intelligence and gumption to challenge him. Sogolon uses her abilities and goes to any length to seek retribution. She's unwilling to bow down to anyone in this misogynistic world, even if it kills her.
I'll start by saying that I appreciate that this book is told from a female perspective. There's so much to unpack here and because it doesn't follow a conventional trilogy format (it's neither a standalone nor a companion book), I'll just share my thoughts about the story on it's own.
Sogolon's journey to become the moon witch is haunting, and the abuse, as well as her grief and sorrow, capture the grim realities of today. James's writing is both enthralling and eloquent. He beautifully captures all of the drama, politics, corruption, and nuances of relationships. This is a completely riveting read, with masterful storytelling and fantastic dialogue.
I have not read the first in Marlon James's Dark Star fantasy trilogy and the search of the lost missing boy thought to be crucial to the survival of the kingdom, but it did not stop me becoming totally immersed in this ambitious and epic follow up, his world building is rich and vibrant, steeped in ancient African legends, folklore, mythology and history. It is a haunting, blood soaked, and heartbreaking read, focusing on Sogolon, an orphan, and her traumatic rage inducing personal experiences, her grief and sorrow, abused, living on a termite hill, brutalised, and her transformation into the moon witch. We learn of the long history, the constant state of turbulence, the powerful King's chancellor, the powerful, deadly and murderous Aesi, his ability to wipe memories and Sogolon's battles with him. Where women and girls are oppressed, Sogolon is the ultimate female survivor, with her own powers, willing to do whatever it takes, she will fight to right wrongs, seek retribution, bowing to n0-one, uncaring if she lives or dies in this misogynistic world.
James's writing is wonderfully captivating and expressive in this gut wrenching, unflinching, harrowing novel of political intrigue and machinations, corruption, relationships, magic, memories and truth. Yet despite the bleakness and grim realities, it manages to be an enthralling and totally gripping read, with brilliant characters and terrific dialogue. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
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