Marlon James is an award-winning Jamaican writer with three novels to his name, which have all been set in his homeland of Jamaica. They have involved themes like slavery and the political climate of Jamaica itself. You may not know much about him yet, but in the coming months you might be hearing about his new series called Dark Star.
Mr. James has announced that he will be writing a trilogy of books inspired by African mythology and the writing of Tolkien. The Dark Star series will follow the story of eight mercenaries who were hired to locate a missing young boy. After nine years, only three of the mercenaries remain, and they’re locked in the dungeon of a dying king while awaiting trial for the boy’s death. Each book in the trilogy will be told from the perspective of one of three characters: the tracker, the ‘moon-witch’, and the boy. Basically, they’re all witness testimonies to this boy’s death. Each sequel will also reveal what the previous book got right and wrong.
James has been building this world and creating its mythology for the past three years, since he turned in the manuscript for ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’.
When asked by Entertainment Weekly about the idea for Dark Star, James explained that it came from an argument he was having with a friend about casting and diversity in fantasy franchises. The author told them, “It made me realize that there was this huge universe of African history and mythology and crazy stories, these fantastic beasts and so on, that was just waiting there. And I’m a big sci-fi geek—I love my Lord of the Rings, I love my Angela Carter and my Dragonslayer. I think the argument ended with me saying, “You know what? Keep your d— Hobbit. And it made me start to think about the fantastic African epic traditions—some of the stories I grew up with, like Anansi the Spider. I just realized that there’s this huge pool of fantastic stories to draw from. It’s sort of like my being a scholar of African history and mythology, and my being a total sci-fi/fantasy geek who rereads things like The Mists of Avalon, they just sort of came together.”
James has been studying different African languages to create his own, similar to how Tolkien created his own languages for his books. But he is also still drawing a lot of inspiration from things like The Lord of the Rings. In the interview, James explained, “[It’s] more Middle Earth than say, Mogadishu. It’s all these imagined spaces, and all these imagined worlds, but still playing on a lot of African culture. But also, sort of recapturing some of the glories of empires—a lot of which the British just kind of burnt to the ground, which is why we don’t talk about them now. Going way back, the touch point for this story would probably be just after the dawn of the Iron Age.”
James gave a bit more detail on the story and mythology, saying, “I don’t know if I could put it in a year. I think it would be like if Luke Cage was suddenly Conan the Barbarian. It’s a little bit Dark Ages in Europe, wouldn’t have had Charlemagne yet… sort of after the fall of Rome, but before the rise of Florence, if you want to call it that. But in Africa, we had some of these really glorious empires, like Ghana and Ethiopia and Songhai and Kush.
But I didn’t want to write a historical novel. I wanted to go back to being a fantasy geek! I don’t know who I told this, but I said, “I just want to geek the hell out of something.” I want monsters and magical beings! Just in the first 50 pages of this book, this guy’s already gone underwater to the Underworld. He’s running into these mer-creatures who cause huge Sickness.”
He even gave a brief description of the first book’s plot, “The very, very basic plot is this slave trader hires a bunch of mercenaries to track down a kid who may have been kidnapped. But finding him takes nine years, and at the end of it, the kid is dead. And the whole novel is trying to figure out, ‘How did this happen?’ So [Black Leopard, Red Wolf] itself is basically a witness testimony. The thing is, the next novel is somebody else’s eyewitness testimony, and their first remark is, ‘Everything you read before is not true.'”
This book sounds incredible, I’m already sold! Will you be reading it when it hits shelves in the fall of 2018?
If you’re interested in reading the full interview, click here.