Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341
The novel, published in 2019, is Part 1 of Marlon James’s planned Dark Star trilogy. On one level, it is a fantasy epic focused on good versus evil struggles, with human, animal, and combined characters ranging across the African continent. On another level, the author probes the fantasy genre to provide commentary on contemporary society. Rather than an idealistic hero devoted to his quest, such as in the medieval traditions, James offers a mercenary anti-hero apparently afflicted with existential malaise. The novel’s success depends in large part on the author’s combining elements of those traditions and mixing in features of other cultural traditions, such as African tales.
The character of Tracker, with his special gifted nose, embarks on a search for a missing child. While the plot concerns his ongoing missing to find the boy, it is complicated by the references to Tracker’s captivity. Initially the reader does not know what the present is: if Tracker has been freed to continue his journey, or if he is narrating his failure in retrospect. A notorious loner, Tracker in this case joins forces with others whose skills complement his own but whose methods often conflict with his. Numerous magical qualities are attached to the various characters: Tracker, after losing one of his own eyes, substitutes that of a wolf; Leopard is a shape-shifter, while Nyka is a skin-shedder, and both are Tracker’s former lovers; there are many witches and spells.
As Tracker continues on his quest for several years, he is pessimistic about the outcome, stating his belief that the boy is already dead—which he actually pronounced on page 1. Gradually the reasons for his disappearance, such as the enemies who want him imprisoned or killed, are revealed as connected to the complicated political maneuverings between the two main African territories, the North and South Kingdoms. Inevitably, the pursuer becomes the quarry—or perhaps he always was? The limits of trust and truth become important themes as Tracker’s doubt extends beyond the child’s survival to his very existence.