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Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
April 7, 2022

"The only difference between who is a witch and who is not is one man's mouth."

to everyone who was bummed out about the first book of james' dark star trilogy—Black Leopard, Red Wolf—being "misogynistic," this second volume is the antidote to that complaint, because while the world and the society represented may still be misogynistic, our antiheroine sogolon is rolling up for some vengeance on behalf of the sisterhood.

I warn them that I was a ruthless woman, and if you send me into any place, save for any woman or child, I am the only one leaving there alive.

'course, that means that the people who were bummed out about Black Leopard, Red Wolf being "brutal" will have to keep waiting for their antidote, which i doubt will be forthcoming in book three. marlon james is never gonna write a gentle book, but everything he writes is gold.

Moon Witch, Spider King is as massive and densely-plotted as book one, but despite its sprawling scope, it feels more approachable—more linear and straightforward—although it is by no means a fast read. its plot slots into Black Leopard, Red Wolf in certain places, but most of the book takes place long before leopard/wolf, so it is neither a retelling nor a standalone. where it does overlap, the POV shift to sogolon provides a necessary counterpoint to everything that happened in book one, when tracker was telling his version of the events.

this is the story of the century-plus life of a formidable woman, from sogolon's humble beginnings as an underestimated orphan-girl to her transformation into the moon witch, during which time she will become a slave, thief, fighter, lover, mother; she will make allies and adversaries, encounter shapeshifters and monsters, see the rise and fall of empires, witness the truth lost amidst the passing of time, and—more immediately—through the mind-controlling powers of the aesi, whose presence in her life is as constant and enduring as the threats against her sex; the neverending slaughter, silencing, and suppression of women.

and heads will roll for this. or...explode.

ever since i read marlon james' astonishingly good second novel The Book of Night Women, i've considered its antiheroine lilith to be the most fierce and fascinating female characters of all time, but the formidable sogolon may give her a run for her money:

"But not you, Sogolon the baddest woman alive."

"Never meet one to take the claim from me."


along with longevity, sogolon was born with the power to control wind (not wind), although "control" is not always le mot juste. but you don't always need surgical precision to get results in the fight against injustice:

When I was done with the Cheetah Society, those who still live fumble through the dark on broken bones, searching for limbs that no science will sew back. Those who die lie stuck in the mud, but their blood wash out into the lake, making the mouth of the tunnel look like it bleed. Hairy feet I kick out of the way, hairy heads the wind (not wind) sweep in and crack open. A dagger fall out of the hand when I kick an arm and break the elbow. I stomp right to the end of the tunnel, stabbing, slicing, kicking, chopping, and slamming any limb that come across my way. The wind (not wind) do everything else.

reviewing the second part of a trilogy is difficult, especially one set in such a minutely-constructed world whose details will make no sense to the uninitiated. in a perfect world, i would have had the time and freedom to reread leopard/wolf before tackling this, to brush up on the details. in this imperfect world, the best i could do was snoop around and see how real reviewers were handling the dilemma and i stumbled upon this unattributed PW review, whose closing portion is something i wish i had written:

If book one centers on the nature of storytelling, this volume turns its focus to memory, archiving, and history as Sogolon works to correct the record. The two stories run parallel to and contradict each other, and James mines the distance between them to raise powerful questions about whether truth is possible when the power of storytelling is available only to a few.

i mean, that's a perfect and succinct summation proving how ill-equipped i am at this reviewing thing. best i can do is follow my own lead and let marlon james play me out again:

Now is the night, girl, say a voice that sound like her. Now is the night to make distance between you and every white woman. Now is the night to run.

But where she running to? say another voice that sound like her. Sogolon hear this voice before, one that sound closer to her, a voice that slow down her step and calm her heart. No. Calm is not what it do to her heart. The voice don't slow it down with peace, but with confusion and fear. Right here is the bad she know, out there is the good she don't, which could be worse than bad. Worse than worse. So the voice telling her. But Sogolon getting tired of that voice, tired of its mosquito buzzing in and out of her ear. No bad that she know sound better than the bad she don't, when that bad is her brothers chaining her around the neck and putting her to live in a termite hill. The bad that she know is Miss Azora training her to be a whore, then auctioning off her koo to the first rapist. The bad she know is the mistress giving her away like a trinket, and the master and his wicked cock, the sharp point of his rage. The bad that she know can go lie down and spread its legs and get ripped open by a buffalo's cock. She would rather run off a cliff, wade into the deep part of the river, run down a road with no marker, or where there is no road. Is not where you running to, she tell that feeble voice, getting feebler. Is the running itself. Not knowing where to go is what stop too many from going, keep too many staying, and leave too many not knowing that it don't matter where you running to as long as you run. Not seeing what lay before them never stop anyone from running in the dark. Girl, nobody here give a care for where you go, not even you, so make distance between you and them. You cannot stay here.

not even sogolon's wind (not wind) can put out that 🔥 🔥 🔥


exciting marlon james news!!!


come to my blog!
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,708 reviews25k followers
February 19, 2022
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 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 no-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.
Profile Image for sol✯.
766 reviews118 followers
Want to read
February 23, 2022
where the FUCK is the release date?
i need this right fucking now

edit: we have a release date!! in America it's being released on February 15th 2022 and in the UK its being released early march, March 3rd 2022! thanks, joseph and laurie for letting me know in the comments! it is also up for preorder so get to it people YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY


my copy isn't here yet and I'm in pain.

edit: ITS HERE. oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god
Profile Image for nastya .
448 reviews287 followers
March 4, 2022
I love Marlon James, loved everything I've ever tried. He's a great storyteller and has this special energy and style, and I always know that I'm reading his book. And this was my only anticipated new release for the 2022, not Young Mungo or To Paradise, but this one.

I loved the first book, people say it was challenging and brutal, but for me it had such a kinetic energy, basically the story was a quest to find a lot of different things - the boy, love, family, purpose. And in the end, when Tracker was cradling his dying friend Leopard in his arms, I had tears in my eyes.

Here we get a life story of Sogolon, the antagonist of the first book. Sogolon is passive. She's just sitting around and once in a while uses Jean Gray's Dark Phoenix power to kill her enemy. Then she goes back to passivity.

I don't know what happened here, maybe Marlon was rushed, or out of gas, but this was so plainly written, the African world of the first book was so vivid, here, I struggled to imagine cities, woods, castles, creatures.

I bailed on this book twice, the last time somewhere around 65%. I was just bored.

But, this can definitely be read as a standalone and it's a very easy read, if you thought the first one was too detached and confusing. But no magic here.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
522 reviews416 followers
February 16, 2022
FINAL REVIEW // In Marlon James we trust.

There are no spoilers in this review of MOON WITCH, SPIDER KING, just giving you an idea of what vibe to expect.

First off, this book is much easier to get through than its predecessor BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF; it’s a much smoother read. Whereas BLRW seemed to purposely keep you at arm’s length, consistently shrouded in uncertainty and abstraction, this new one is the polar opposite. It’s told in a linear style; we’re discovering and embarking on the same journey as our protagonist Sogolon. It is far less withholding and far more charitable and accommodating to the reader. Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean this book is an easy read. Sure, James makes it easier for you to go along for the ride, but he does not water down the complexity.

If you were worried that MWSK will be a retread of BLRW just with a different POV character, have no fear. James is smarter than that. This felt like a whole new story. In fact, it was an even better story. We follow Sogolon from her monstrously bleak childhood all the way to the badass Moon Witch we knew her as from the first book. The first half of the book plays out like an origin story.

For those of you who felt that BLRW was too testosterone-heavy, MWSK flips the switch. This book is more female-centric in its vision. There are several strong female characters, relationships, and rivalries galore. Here, the women run the show, they light these pages on fire. This book gave me THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN vibes, especially in the first quarter of the book. Young Sologon’s plight is reminiscent of Lilith’s from that book.

Expect haunting imagery, straight-up terrifying and nightmarish moments; a better understanding of this fantasy world with all of its riches, poverty, royalty, authoritarianism, supernatural violence, political shenanigans, gender and power dynamics, and survival of the fittest mentality. This was a bloody good time, pun intended. I’m itching for Book 3. This book proved we’re in good hands.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
February 15, 2022
Three years ago, Booker Prize winner Marlon James sliced through enough carotid arteries to fill an ocean. "Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the first volume of his Dark Star trilogy, washed into fame on a wave of blood. James joked that he was writing “an African ‘Game of Thrones,’” but his real target was higher and older: He reanimated modern fantasy with the bones and sinews of African mythology. The result was a genre-stretching, canon-scrambling triumph that The Washington Post called one of the top 10 books of the year.

In an ancient world riven by war, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” spins a story about the search for a boy who may be the key to the kingdom’s survival. Much of the book — a collection of adventures oxidized by the mist of legend — describes a posse that sets off to find the lost child. Throughout their years-long search, the Red Wolf and his lover, the shapeshifting Black Leopard, work in uneasy collaboration with a buffalo, a melancholy giant and a witch named Sogolon.

That old woman, who insists she’s not really a witch, is now the subject of the second volume of the Dark Star trilogy. “Moon Witch, Spider King” is a companion rather than a sequel to the earlier book. Its story begins more than a century before the adventures of Wolf and Leopard — indeed, you’ll want to sit down: They don’t appear in this new volume for 500 pages.

This is the memoir of a reluctant killer, a 177-year-old disconsolate woman who claims, “I never have a happy day ever.” She wants nothing more than to be left alone or to die. She never gets either wish. “Everything annoy me,” she says in her heavy patois. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
917 reviews283 followers
June 12, 2022
The disappointment is real. Not only was Marlon James second book in his gruesome, violent, sexual series one of my most hyped books of 2022; but it’s one I’ve been imagining some of the plot for (as I knew it connected with the end of Trackers story in book 1). Sadly Moon Witch, Spider King was a fairly big disappointment for me. There are many reasons why this was a tougher, less exciting read. Let’s get into some of them:

Sologon’s voice
The entire book, all 500+ pages is written in a sort of broken English. This caused me to take about 2-3 times longer to read each sentence, page, chapter, etc. every time I sat down with it. I understand that Marlon James wants us to really hear Sogolon’s first person voice. To truly understand how uneducated she is; and then how impressive it is she does anything at all to improve her situation. But honestly it just feels tedious at points. The vernacular was the largest barrier for me. For example:
”Here is truth. I try to forget, and living in Keme house make it easy as long as nobody ask any question for which nobody have any answer.”

Not as Intense
Book 1, Black Panther, Red Wolf, was very intense with lots of sex (mostly gay men), violence (including torture), jokes (many a little off-colour), and a lot of interaction with Tracker (the lead first person character) and others.
Unlike Tracker, Sogolon is (mostly) a loner for the majority of her story. She’s weak, afraid, and tolerates a lot from others. At times she’s treated like, and even sold as, a slave.
If this is the feminine version of Trackers story then James and I need to sit down and discuss what a strong, woman might look like. And while eventually we see the strength and resilience of Sogolon. The reality is it never feels complete and always feels like a man has to agree that she is powerful. It was frustrating to this women, and so I often avoided reading the novel. This contributes to why it took me a record 2 months to finish. A violent patriarch is not a place I want to be in for long.
”Women come to her with a mountain of problems, and nine times out of ten, that problem is a man.”

The Main Story
This is Sogolon’s origin story, up to when she meets with Tracker and friends and then tell us the same key plot points from her point of view. I was looking forward to learning where Sogolon goes when she leaves Trackers group. And while I learned these things it was only in the last 100 pages. I had 400+ pages of annoying Sogolon to get through first. While some parts of her origin story are quite good including all her time at court, giving birth to lions, and some of her Moon Witch days ultimately the rest was quite dull. She wanders around a forest, helps some women, and eventually realizes she has a bone to still pick with the Aesi. Which we already knew from the first book.

I could go on but really but why bother. If the vernacular isn’t enough to put you off then maybe you can enjoy it more than me. I’m really disappointed as this was one of two highly anticipated books this year. The second is in the Gideon the Ninth series (releasing in September), hopefully it does better than Moon Witch, Spider King has for me.
I will say that, oddly, this poorly handled book 2 will in no way stop me from reading book 3. This is still an amazing series set-up with incredible queer male representation, and the kind of violence/gore that only grim dark fantasy can pull off and not be categorized as horror. The women may not be who I hoped for but they are who they are because of circumstance and perhaps a lack of understanding from James on how to write a well-balanced women. Maybe he just misses the mark with Sogolon because her emotions and experiences are uniquely feminine. Or perhaps Sogolon is just not the exciting character that Tracker is. Whatever the reason I won’t give up on this unique series just yet. But I will go into book 3 with reservations after finding this one a flop.
Profile Image for Heidi (Heidi's Bookish Adventures).
111 reviews17 followers
May 8, 2022
May 2022:

So good. As complex as the first book but also a bit more approachable and easier to read, possibly because it’s more linear. The violence that shocked everyone in book one, is still there but toned down a bit (keep in mind that “toned down” still means very violent).

Sogolon as a character adds a whole new dimension to the story. She was one of the antagonists in Black Leopard, Red Wolf but her perspective provides context which we didn’t get by just following Tracker. She is the very definition of a strong female character and the book focuses a lot more on women and their voices in general.

The writing is excellent and some of the dialogue is possibly the best I’ve ever read. For a book this dark, there’s also some humour here and there, provided by Sogolon’s own witty remarks.

I was blown away by the first book and now I was blown away again. Can’t wait for the third book.

May 2020:
The first book completely wrecked me. I NEED MORE.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,422 reviews2,546 followers
February 16, 2022
Some people neither day or night. Some people not set-out point or destination, some people is the journey…

One thing you should know, Marlon James knows how to tell a story and he does just that in Moon Witch, Spider King . Unlike the first installment in the Dark Star Trilogy, this book, I found flowed a lot better and I felt I could understand (for the most part) what was happening.

When we first met Sogolon we did not know a lot about her back story, why she is the way she is and how she ended up being that person. With this book we journey from her childhood to adulthood and everything in between. I enjoyed being immersed in Sogolon’s story, which was well told!

I received an ARC so I didn’t get to see the map of the world, that kinda threw me off sometimes but outside of that James did an amazing job of world building. I wished we stayed more in the city that floated at night and was grounded during the days.

I am not a big fantasy reader but Sogolon’s story is a truly one to be read! I can see a lot of people enjoying this one!
Profile Image for Oviya.
285 reviews
Want to read
August 27, 2020
Profile Image for Emiliya Bozhilova.
1,365 reviews225 followers
August 21, 2023

За втори път оценявам книга 100 страници преди края. Първият път беше отново с Марлон Джеймс, с предишната книга от тази “поредица”, която не е поредица, защото последователността и линейността в случая са толкова условни, че са направо без значение. Както и краят на всяка история.

Лунната вещица е Соголон - момичето без име, което само не знае защо оцелява, когато по-ловки и учени от нея не успяват. Момиче, което не се поддава на магията на забравата и безволната манипулация на умовете на вещера Аеси. Момиче, което има страхотни проблеми с изгарящата я вътрешна ярост, която никакви мигове на покой и обич не могат да угасят.

Както всички романи на Марлон Джеймс, този също - освен невероятно пъстър, извънземно шарен и по африкански митологичен - е за израстването, идентичността, паметта, цената и стойността на различието, лудостта на света и късчето магия, което предпазва цялото това кълбо от несъвместимости от разпадане. До следващия катаклизъм, когато всичко започва отначало.

P.S. Мистър Джеймс, ако някога се появи трета част, моля-моля-моля да е от името на Аеси!

Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews385 followers
April 21, 2022
It's been about three years since I finished and rather enjoyed Black Leopard, Red Wolf . It was a hallucinatory, violent, and linguistically challenging fantasy novel that could only have sprung from the pen of Marlon James. For those not familiar, The Dark Star trilogy follows a motley crew of dangerous individuals in search of a boy upon whose life the fate of a kingdom may rest, but each instalment sees a different member talking narrative lead to tell the story from their own perspective. In this volume, we're treated to the account of Sogolon the Moon Witch.

Now, here's the thing: we don't even catch up to Tracker and the characters of the first novel until 500 pages have gone by. I'm all for patience and letting the novel take me where it will, but the lead-up to the eventual reunion regularly tested my resolve to finish the novel. However, by the time the crew gathers to go after the boy, my mindset was entirely framed by Sogolon's perspective and the new layers she adds to the narrative. Really, it's an innovative twist on traditional western fantasy storytelling that demands the reader question everything they've read, but also to question the person telling the narrative.

Frankly, I think this would be an easier book to sell to others if it were more linguistically accessible. Unfortunately, this is a hard read by any standard. I trudged through dense paragraphs about kingdoms I didn't understand and flipped back and forth to the--I kid you not--SEVEN pages of maps and dramatic personae at regular intervals. Yes, it can sometimes be entertaining to pull back and glimpse the tangled web James has been weaving, but those moments for me were few and far between. Indeed, it was about halfway through when I turned to the internet for help, but I'd recommend any prospective readers do so earlier in their reading.

Another piece of important survival information: though this novel and Black Leopard, Red Wolf can theoretically be read in any order, I found it helpful to remind myself of the story as told by Tracker. A brief synopsis helped frame the differences between his and Sogolon's accounts, which was a large part of the draw for me. I'd be interested to hear from people who decide to read this one first.

Finally, Sogolon herself is perhaps the most important aspect of the novel. Her narration differs from that of Tracker by many degrees, but the one most important is that Sogolon believes women are worthy of note. Sogolon's dealt a rough hand throughout her life and is appropriately bitter, vengeful, and her struggle to tamp down that anger fails in regularly devastating fashion. I came to appreciate and understand her worldview even though it is a pretty dark mind space to place oneself in. It puts a unique slant on the narrative even though a good amount of it went over my head.

I was reminded of my reading of Wolf Hall some years back while reading this novel. It was a complex challenge narratively, linguistically, and I came away from it with a lot of admiration for the craft if not having loved the reading experience. Moon Witch, Spider King is a similar experience, though it was slightly damaged in my mind's eye for taking so long to arrive at the part of the story in which I was most interested.

Nonetheless, you can bet that I'll be back with bells on to see what kind of herculean literary task James has built when the final instalment of The Dark Star Trilogy arrives.

[3.5 Stars]
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,821 reviews427 followers
January 4, 2023
Here I was thinking that Black Leopard, Red Wolf was phenomenal and then BAM! Marlon James drops Moon Witch, Spider King on us and it is even BETTER!!!!

**EXPERIENCE THIS ONE IN AUDIO** Bahni Turpin brings Sogolon to life

The African culture, folklore, beliefs, personalities and especially the language are some of the many things that make this trilogy special.

These books are NOT for the faint of heart! The writing is confrontational, aggressive, abrasive, intense, and full of dark candor. And I was loving every second of it! Marlon James is an author that reminds me of the way that I am pushed and pulled and prodded into my own psyche to THINK and to SPECULATE and to just freaking experience cruel and still beautiful aspects of life. I find this similar to the way that I am forced to feel things and think about them from a Joe Hill or a Chuck Palahniuk book. He challenges me as both a reader and a human. This is a TRUE gift! Albeit a gift that not everyone wants to receive or can handle, but a gift all the same.

Having a female character (Sogolon) as the main narrative POV as opposed to Tracker lent a tiny bit more softness to the story. I LOVE how things are coming together. It was awesome to get to see how events have led up to this point from the two vastly different POVs and motivations. I am seeing the big picture of this trilogy. Questions I had in the first novel have been given answers and leading information of how things could potentially continue into the third and final book of this Dark Star Trilogy.

The lion pride was both lovely and heartbreaking. I thought this entire section was masterfully written.

There were again SO many amazing quotes that made me laugh and that I would share. Some that I had a chance to take note of are:
"This boy looks like his clothes commit wickedness by hiding him."

"Why everything that come out of your mouth just scream little penis?"

"Is every old man a crying bitch in Congo?"

Sogolon's witty snark was on point! How could I not love her as a character? I loved how different she was here from how she was portrayed through Tracker's eyes.

5+ Stars, Marlon James is a literary gift to the world.
Profile Image for Jemppu.
501 reviews93 followers
August 1, 2022
Moon Witch gives satisfying new dimension to the world Black Leopard, Red Wolf set up. While notably more calculated and introspective with its approach, than its relentless fever dream of a predecessor, still none the more precious with its character, nor any less effortlessly unrestrained at its most casually ferocious whims; James' writing reads inspiritingly unguarded and instinctive - unfazed delivery of which also incites occasional delightful tours at the edge of absurdity.

Bahni Turpin narrates with great personality.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,202 reviews3,674 followers
September 2, 2023
This is certainly more straightforward and easy to follow than Black Leopard, Red Wolf! And while I wasn't sure what to expect as a book telling the same story, there isn't as much overlap as you might think. The bulk of the book follows the early years of Sogolon and how she went from an enslaved girl to the powerful Moon Witch, then late in the story there is overlap with book 1.

I like the project of this more than I enjoyed the reading experience as a whole. I appreciate that this is centering a woman, even if the level of trauma she experiences throughout her life is intense. (though I'm here for a girl having magic that takes down a predator trying to assault her) But this was often less engaging than book 1 and I thought a lot of it dragged and felt less vibrant. That said, there were some great parts and things really pick up in the final 20-30% of the book. Glad I read it, but I'm not in love with it. All the content warnings, much like book 1, particularly for sexual assault, loss of a child, enslavement, abuse of children, and violence.
Profile Image for fatherofdragons113.
184 reviews48 followers
March 17, 2022
I really enjoyed Moon Witch, Spider King. The first book was very LGBTQIA and this book was about a fierce woman with special powers. There is A LOT of depth to this book/series. It was very challenging for me, but the lore and the worldbuilding, and just the quality of the story, was so intriguing that I never wanted to give up on the story even though I struggled to get through some of it. The way the book is written, it's almost in an accent, and while I loved that about the book, it did (for me at least) create somewhat of a barrier and I think some of the emotional impact that Marlon James might have intended didn't land with me. I read the first book right when it came out and I think I forgot some of the smaller details that might have connected these two books together that I also missed out on.

The world, writing style, and just the grit of this novel is engrossing and captivating. It is a slow-burn, challenging novel that I think some readers might have a hard time syncing with (at least from my perspective). I really enjoyed it though and I look forward to the last book in the trilogy and to whatever future project James puts out there.
Profile Image for Virginia.
178 reviews17 followers
November 19, 2021
A great follow-up to the well-written and intense BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF!

I was really excited to read this after waiting oh-so-patiently. I even had the privilege to chat with Marlon James after reading the first book, begging for details. He's a stone vault though so all I got was that it would be able Sogolon and tell her story.

Her story does not disappoint.

We met Sogolon in the first book as an antagonist to Tracker, but now we get to see why she acts and thinks the way she did, starting from her abusive childhood on a termite hill to the random series of circumstances that led her to stand in the throne room. Setting is really important in this book and James gives a fantastic sense of place as you follow her journey. I felt like I walked the halls and roamed the streets with her. This transportation also allowed me to sympathize with her which is something I didn't have when I read in her in the first book.

I really liked the use of magic in this book, mixed with folklore and myth James introduced earlier. Now he dives into the weird and wild with those who abuse magic and those who live with it. I also really loved his portrayal of women in this book. BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF had some intense violence to children, but this time we follow a child who fights back (Sogolon) and the women who see her and give her more space to grow. The violence is tamer, but the story still doesn't shy away from the gruesome details. While the women are strong, they're still subject to society's oppression. However, James does a great job showing how these women owned their space, no matter how little it was.

My only real qualm with the book is the ending. I can't call it a cliffhanger since we know where her journey goes, but it felt so abrupt and now I'm grumpy I have to wait again to find out what happens next.

If you enjoyed BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF, then you will enjoy the follow-up. I also feel like you can read this one first and be able to follow along as its own story.
I will recommend the series as a whole to fans of dark fantasy, African mythos/folklore, and epic fantasies that take you on unexpected journeys.

**Read thanks to an ARC from Riverhead**
Profile Image for Kiki.
200 reviews154 followers
January 16, 2022
Where will you go?
Keep yourself afloat.

Feeling old until the wings unfolded.
Caught me a long wind.

Where will we go?
Keep ourselves afloat.

In Sula there are two women: one willing to live within certain boundaries and one determined to live outside them. Sogolon lives somewhere in between, a woman of many names and none. This is not a triumphalist narrative of a woman overcoming the many abuses others subjected her to in her youth but in many ways a grim tale of a woman shaped by violence living on revenge's desire. Yet she managed to forge generations of family and community though she could not, ultimately, claim them for herself.

I have questions about some of the decisions Marlon James made in the writing of this character's story but I am grateful for and wholly invested in the creation. This is my initial response after a first read. Other reviews will come.

And now the current tells
what the wave withheld.
And then the lightning sang
of where the light would land.

Where will you go
To keep yourself afloat?

Bookstagram | Twitter | The Book Slut
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
567 reviews102 followers
March 7, 2022
I thought it was a telling (while jovial) comment in the acknowledgements of Moon Witch, Spider King where Marlon James says:

“My mother is allowed to read all of this book”
This contrasts with the acknowledgements in Black Leopard, Red Wolf
“My mother is allowed to read all but two pages of this book”
Is this because James has toned down the narrative? Perhaps Mum finally got used to her son?!

Moon Witch has plenty of adult content but some of description of violence against humans have been toned down significantly. I think it makes for a much better book. Sogolon, aka the Moon Witch dominates the first three quarters, and her relationship with Keme is in many ways a conventional love story, full of flirtations, a battle of the sexes, some mutual sulking, and then children. Their offspring are quite fabulous and the perfect vehicle for the shape-shifting qualities of African folk lore and myth.
Sogolon and Tracker are the ying and yang of the trilogy, and both love to banter, and feign ignorance in the face of anybody who takes them too lightly.
I thought there was more humour in Moon Witch (which is welcome). A particular favourite passage followed the death of Komwono’s husband and the subsequent funeral arrangements. When the extended family arrives Komwono eventually has to throw them out when they take up extended residence. The mourners and hangers on are searched on their departure and various chattels and valuables are retrieved!!!!

Leopard (who is very much a bit part in this second instalment) is described as
“a walking reason to always stay naked and ready”!! (539)

The influence of Hilary Mantel (see interview notes) is very apparent in the dynastic struggles of north and south, and of the underlying discord in dispute over primogeniture. The Chancellor, “the Aesi”, would give Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell a run for his money.

When you finish Marlon James books you feel a bit battered and bruised, and its no easy feat to keep abreast of the fast moving action. That said, I’m sufficiently invested now to look forward to the final instalment.
It was interesting to see James during his tour to launch the book, and his reflections lack any belligerence or push for dramatic impact. This is a writer who has earned the right to write about the fantasy world he loves in an African setting:

Marlon James in conversation with Ekow Eshun at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 2.3.2022.

• The first idea for the novel is the sea adventure. This is on page 384(!). James has wanted to write about a sea voyage for years! Starting his novels in the middle works for him as he asks his character how did you get here? Since our lead character is 177 years old you need to give her a past and a future.
• Determined not to make this second part if the trilogy a straight response to Tracker by Sogolon. Hence its 500 pages before the original crew re- appear. This trilogy is bigger than a bunch of shape shifting mercenaries
• Writing discipline and influences. Toni Morrison’s name came up on numerous occasions during the talk. A copy of Beloved was on James’s desk at all times. He was writing an introduction to a new edition of Song of Solomon. Given that this is a book about women among other women it was an appropriate influence for James’s own story. Other influences included Wolf Hall for the Court drama and intrigue.
• A novel needs to have dragons (!), and James was able to satisfy this!!(in African folk- lore is Ninki nankas)
• The use of patois’ in the writing, and the use of the present tense. Verbs are always in the present tense in Jamaica and action is always active. James grew up with “broken” English but he doesn’t believe for a moment that its ‘broken’ or any less valid as a form of expression.
• Unreliable narrator. The reader will have decide who is telling the truth. Three books, three versions. This idea stems from listening to his grandfather at home; he heard the same story a number of times with the same people but different outcomes!! Sogolon and Aesi have different world views. Which one does James support??
• The floating cities idea. Inspiration from Ethiopia where buildings are built down, not up.
• Likes to draw maps- its cool. Wanted to immerse in “dungeons and dragons” as a youngster.
• Writing a book designed to be read aloud. Needs to have a good actor read the words. Definitely not with a South African twang.
• In defence of genre writing; Fantasy. It takes on the big questions… why are we here?. Term magical realism is unpopular; better term is African futurism. Influences Samuel Delaney and Nalo Hopkinson
• Musical playlist for writing inspiration: Free or spiritual jazz. Alice Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Jazz La Reine (James is a big user of Facebook).
Profile Image for Ricky Schneider.
223 reviews33 followers
March 23, 2022
Moon Witch, Spider King is Marlon James' companion novel (rather than direct sequel) to his epic and incredible Black Leopard, Red Wolf. It can even be read as a stand-alone and I would love to hear from readers who consume this book in that way. I was blown away by that first novel and though there is much of the same brutal beauty to be beheld in this as there was in that first one, and even some new and enlightening perspective given to the events of that story, I felt this one was slightly less impressive and engaging.

I very much appreciated the Rashomon style approach to this effort from James as we switch perspectives from Tracker in the first book to the Moon Witch, Sogalon in this one. Her narration is just as intriguing and fascinating as Tracker's but, as she was the antagonist of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the shift in perspective is constantly at odds with the version of the story we know. This is by nature of the narrative setup and certainly by design but it meant that sometimes my favorite characters and events were underplayed or diminished. While I understand the intentionality behind that, I couldn't help being underwhelmed by it and I feel that it is a counterintuitive and somewhat counterproductive approach for a sequel in a series.

James is a masterful writer and his style is unapologetic and visceral. His graphic and gritty prose is not for the faint of heart and he does not hold back here. The violence and sexuality doesn't feel gratuitous in these novels because it comes across as an authentic and integral part of the world that James is crafting. That world is so rich and mesmerising that the rough edges are smoothed out with the stunning and imaginative beauty at its heart.

That majestic vision and astounding world-building is all a product of James' decision to set this epic fantasy, not in a Eurocentric medieval environment but in precolonial Africa. The prose is imbued with a musical cadence and has the feeling of an oral history. All of this was intentional by the author and it really enriches the reading experience with a distinct and engrossing aesthetic all its own. It may be challenging but it is certainly worth the effort to get a story this unique and entrancing.

Upon finishing this expansive and extensive story, I was grateful for the dimension it added to the first novel and the clever ways that James so deftly addressed the misogynistic and narrative criticisms that Black Leopard received. Moon Witch, Spider King intelligently and skillfully broadens the scope of James' incredible world-building while doing the exact same for the more personal elements as well. This novel is a fitting follow-up to the first but the absolute literary beast that was Black Leopard, Red Wolf may have proven itself to be impossible to eclipse in its engaging cast of characters and their immense and colorful world. However, Moon Witch did scratch that itch for more that I had going into it and it stands strong on its own as yet another bewitching and often befuddling fantasy fever-dream from a masterful writer.

Profile Image for Dimitris Kopsidas.
272 reviews12 followers
March 17, 2022
This sequel to "Black Panther, Red Wolf" feels more epic in scope and at the same time more contained and more intimate because we become more invested to the protagonist, Sogolon.
Marlon James's prose once again is fantastic and his storytelling skills really shine as we follow Sogolon to her long journey. The history of the world is expanded and better explained and even though the book is supposed to be the story of "Black Panther, Red Wolf" told through the eyes of the Moon witch character, this is much more than that.
In fact only the last quarter of the book (or less) describes the events we witnessed in BPRW. The rest is the story of Sogolon and how she came to be the Moon witch. In truth that was the part I found most interesting. I felt a stronger connection with this protagonist than the character of Tracker of the first book.
My main issue was the pacing which at times was a bit a slow and combined with the length of the book, resulted in taking me longer to finish it.
I strongly suggest that you binge through both the books, because you'll have to remember a lot of stuff from the first book to enjoy it at 100%.
In the end I enjoyed every page of it and I truly believe that when the trilogy will be completed, it will be considered as one of the most influential of the modern fantasy genre.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin UK for providing me with this eARC.

Profile Image for Layne.
431 reviews
January 2, 2022
Thanks to Edelweiss/Riverhead for the ARC.

Part 1 of the Dark Star Trilogy (Black Leopard, Red Wolf) was so, so good but very challenging to read and hard to recommend broadly, depending on one's tolerance for depictions of violence and rape. This however, while still violent, still heavy, flowed so much more smoothly for me. Sogolon's story unfolds in a more inviting way than Tracker's whose storytelling was nonlinear and sometimes tricky with the truth. Maybe I just prefer this tale from a woman's pov as this tells the story of Part 1 from her perspective. I can't wait to listen to the audio version as these words are begging to be read aloud.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,169 reviews1,141 followers
May 21, 2022
OK now I can decide how many stars I could bestow on this book. Sadly it's just 2.5, rounded down. It made me work SO HARD to finish. It did not have the same feverish but addictive feel that I loved in the first book and while Sogolon is a fascinating character, the way she was written (and plot) often made me lose interest. The middle part in this book was excruciatingly slow. The pacing got better near the end hence it stopped me from DNFing the book, because I almost did that, to be honest.

Having said that, I can not help but imagining yet again, how fantastic (and horrifying) this series would be if it's adapted to a TV series. Pretty sure it is one of the goriest and violent fantasy series I ever read. The worldbuilding is just so frakkin' awesome, it's nothing I have ever encountered before. I can not wait to read the finale.
Profile Image for Ola G.
436 reviews32 followers
August 10, 2022
8/10 stars

My full review on my blog


Black Leopard, Red Wolf was a singular book: dark with horrifying, intimate violence, propulsively emotional, full of fantastical monsters (some of which were still wearing human skin), crass and whimsically poetic, and, ultimately, abrasively addictive. The protagonist, Tracker, was bare against the world: his emotions were naked, extreme, and absolutely understandable for everyone who ever met a boy on a cusp of manhood.

But why do I write about the prequel in the review of the second installment? Well, because Moon Witch, Spider King is not similar to Black Leopard, Red Wolf in any recognizable manner - and yet it serves as a satisfactory juxtaposition of perspective to the first book. Moon Witch… tells the tale of Sogolon, the old witch we already know from Tracker’s tale, the witch we all rather despise even though we know of Tracker’s misogyny and his total lack of empathy to anyone so vastly different from him.

James knows this all, after all he devised it so, and so he spends lengthy chapters of this new book in attempts to warm us to Sogolon - telling us the tearjerking tale of her terrible childhood, full of abuse, subjugation, suspicion and hatred. And yet, James doesn’t really know his readers, it seems - for these early chapters are, in hindsight, totally unnecessary. We don't need warming up to Sogolon - she doesn't want it, nor does she require it. These chapters, however, lengthen the book considerably and while they might offer a bit of background, they sure could’ve done it all in a much more succinct way. Sogolon is a survivor, and that’s all we need to know. She is a lean, mean killing machine, as steadfast in her deep hatred as she is in her absolute love. Maybe even a bit more inclined to hatred than to love, in the end, to revenge instead of protection - but what else is left to you when your enemy is a demigod, reincarnating again and again since times immemorial, always gravitating toward power, and always welcomed by that power? Somehow it’s the Aesi who forms the core of this novel: he exerts a gravitational pull, twisting and altering Sogolon’s life in ways that make it no longer her own.

James spends so much time on the early days of Sogolon’s life that the events of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, i.e. the other side of the story told by Tracker, take maybe 20% of the book. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cross because we’re talking about a long, full life here - the witch (not witch, I can hear Sogolon insist) lived for nearly 200 years already, had at some point a loving family, became an institution of revenge for wronged women at another, and even magical fire or burying her alive deep underground didn’t manage to kill her, so possibly nothing will, except the fulfillment of her revenge. But while we read lengthy chapters about the time she spends with kings and princesses, in royal enclosures and throne rooms, none of it has the emotional impact of Tracker’s raw, personal tale - maybe because Sogolon is treated like an object by all those elites, and like a role by her family. Or maybe because her tale is ultimately a tale of ownership, of colonization - her memories, her life, are not her own: she had lost both in her lifelong conflict with the Aesi. Sogolon can only narrate what she was told of her own life by others; whether it’s true or not, nobody can say. There are no witnesses left alive, there are no documents she could check, and her own family is generations gone - she was robbed of her past so effectively that only glimpses remain: emotions, obscure leanings, feelings that something is closer to truth than something else. Looks like James is spinning an allegory within an allegory here. Tracker’s story is one of tragedy and loss that’s raw and immediate and intimate; Sogolon’s story is full of a different kind of pain - remote and dull, but equally tragic. Who are you when you’re robbed of your identity? Do you create a new identity? Do you try to recreate the old one from tales that are not your own and that you cannot fully trust? Sogolon’s plight is reflected not only in her emotions, remote and cold, but also in her language: coarse and limited, ungrammatical, distanced and filled with enforced, somewhat artificial detachment, as when she speaks of herself in third person.

But Sogolon is a survivor. A cold, mean-spirited survivor who holds on to life with tooth and claw, who had her dignity taken away from her too many times to care, who after losing everything had found the core of herself and discovered it was after all immutable and true. And you know what? Tracker’s assessment of Sogolon might not have been far off the mark - she’s no friend to anyone, she’s one cranky, abrasive and mean old woman who cares about nobody, even herself, and who possesses certain special powers that just make it easier for her to kill whoever she doesn’t like. But she’s her own woman, and I admire it. And I admire James for writing this difficult character in a way that elicits empathy and understanding.

In the end, while I loved Black Leopard, Red Wolf more, after a rocky start I realized I also deeply enjoy and appreciate Moon Witch, Spider King. It offers a different view not only on the events of the previous installment, the boy king, the vampires and all, but it also showcases a perspective rarely shown in literature: that of an old woman long past her prime, and yet still with a lot to say - and do. “This is woman work,” she says in the end, and I can’t help but grin and wait for the third installment.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Christine.
118 reviews21 followers
February 9, 2022
[Copy gifted by publisher]

• Gripping and dark fantasy
• Fierce and powerful female protagonists
• Worlds steeped in mythology

A captivating adventure, gripping you to your core with its action, violence, and quest for justice/vengeance. Unlike the first book of the Dark Star trilogy, this book has an new perspective -- that of Sogolon, who we first meet as a girl with no name, abused and forced to live in a termite hill. The journey of how she comes into her womanhood, her power, and her renown as the Moon Witch is dramatic, thrilling, and throws a whole new sheen over the story told in Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

I cannot adequately express how I much loved this book. James is a writer who pulls no punches and his story benefits all the more for it. The joys are exhilarating, the atrocities burn your eyes with horror, the fighting makes your heart race. Never have I ever experienced a male author write about female struggle, pain, oppression, and heartbreak so beautifully and so truly. All this and I haven't even talked about the world of the novel, how rich it is and how much better we can now understand it, as James provides the history and connection between different cities and kingdoms that I feel was muddled or lacking in the first book.

I anticipate many readers wanting to read this book, but not sure if they want to tackle the first book in order to do so. Here's what I'll say: I think this book can be a strong standalone. I also think it can be read first. If you are still new to fantasy, if keeping track of unfamiliar names and places can be a struggle, the second book will provide a strong context to the world while giving you the familiar structure of a protagonist's journey to stand on. If you want more of a challenge, if you like investigating how the puzzle pieces fit together and want the plot-twist moment, go with book one first.
Profile Image for S.R. Harris.
Author 1 book42 followers
August 16, 2022
4 fucking Sologon stars!!!

While I liked the first book because the story itself drew me in and held my interest, but in this one I was caught in Sologon and her life right from the beginning.

This book starts way before the search for the boy, here we get not only Sologon's story but we get the origin story of the boy and why he is so important.

We learn that the Moon Witch was so much more before that title was bestowed on her, she was a no named girl, a whore, a lover, and a mother.

The overlap with Tracker, Mossi and the Leopard was really good because we get to see what was going on when Tracker was lost in the darklands.

I loved this one so much more than the first.

This was such a wild ride.
Profile Image for Meagan.
334 reviews185 followers
Shelved as '2023-priority-tbr-fiction'
May 26, 2022
We have a cover!!! It's fucking gorgeous! Pre-ordering right now!!! 🥰🥰
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,768 reviews1,768 followers
May 4, 2022
This book has been holding up my review queue since I finished it in late March. I was surprised at my reaction to it when I read it, and wasn't sure what I wanted to say, because I wasn't sure if I liked the book or not. And, if I didn't like it, why not? I feel like nothing much has changed in James's style in the last three years. I think it's me, and that I just wasn't in the mood at all to try and parse James's writing style, and deal with his bullshit emotionally.

I say "his bullshit", and what I mean by that is the unrelenting pessimism and negativity of this world. I'm not even talking about the violence or the gore. I liked one, exactly ONE, character in all it's six hundred plus pages. Everyone else sucks. I didn't even like Sogolon, even though her story was pretty sympathetic, because we are in her head and I was fed up with everything we were seeing in it. The effect of this is just what I was afraid of after finishing ?Black Leopard, Red Wolf in 2019, that ultimately the message James is trying to get across is that Humanity Sucks, The End. Like, really, I needed to read 1,200 pages to figure that one out? All right. This isn't exactly a concept that merits the high literature treatment.

I will read the last book, but how it turns out will entirely determine my thoughts on reading any more of James's work in the future.

Who knows, if I revisit this one in the future (I don't know, I might!) I might feel differently about it. For now, three stars.
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