Moon Witch, Spider King – by Marlon James

Moon Witch, Spider King is the second book of the same Dark Star series to witch Black Leopard, Red Wolf belongs. It is not, however, a direct continuation on the same plot, but a different perspective on the same world, and partly on the same events. Not unlike the previous novel, it is definitely a peculiar read, that relentlessly plays with the player’s discomfort.

Title: Moon Witch, Spider King

Author: Marlon James

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Publication Date: 3 March 2022

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 626

Standalone or Series: Second book of the Dark Star Trilogy

Synopsis: The plot follows the life of the titular witch Sogolon: from her miserable childhood and youth, where the awakening of her powers can only partly counteract the abuse she suffers; to her repeated confrontations with the disturbing chancellor Aesi, who not only works closely to the king, but is also regularly tampering with people’s minds; finally, we learn of her involvement in the same quest we’ve already seen through Tracker’s eyes, on which Sogolon gives a rather different account.

Analysis: The story is entriely told from Sogolon’s point of view, however while most of the book is in first person, the fist part is written in third person – perhaps to signify her detachment from facts that are now far removed in time, perhaps to underline how some of her memories have been altered and lost, so that now she’s aware of part of her personal history only through second-hand accounts. The prose is rich with a familiarly violent lyricism, and once again influenced by African dialects and informal speech patterns; to that extent, the book is indeed similar to Black Leopard, Red Wolf, however the tone is quite different, befitting each character’s personality. Only near the end of the story we realise that Sogolon is also been questioned, and by the same authorities Tracker was also dealing with; but while the latter never stopped teasing his captor, addressing him directly and purposely detouring his confession, Sogolon sounds more grounded and direct.

Sologon’s story is, among other things, a strong counterpoint to Tracker’s disgruntled misogyny, that went hand in hand with his dsitrust for magic and magic users. Once at the receiving end of hatred and suspicion, here our witch is given a chance to speak her truth, and she does so in a powerful voice. So we see her navigating a world that has little mercy for anyone, but even less so for those of her gender. Her bildungsroman is shaped by violence and abuse, but instead of being destroyed Sogolon surives and hones her prodigious power, shedding the designed victim’s role for that of fearsome creature.

The setting seems at once similar and distinct to the one described by Tracker: it is indeed similar in its relentless, graphically described violence, with descriptions that never miss a chance to indulge in the most unpleasant aspects of physicality; on the other hand, some bizzarre and fable-like aspects are toned down, and while the world is still populated by terrifying monsters and attractive shapeshifters, it overall seems less grotesque than in the previous book; Sogolon does in fact suggest that Tracker was making things up, even marvelling at how he tried to sell nonsensical details to the inquisitor.

Does it make Sogolon more sincere, her story more truthful and reliable? Or is it just a different kind of ruse? In the end, we’re left with no definite answer.

Conclusions & Recommendations: Just like Black Leopard, Red Wolf, this isn’t precisely an easily approachable read; it is definitely more “interesting” than “enojyable” and to this day I can’t say whether this is a good thing. I must say, I found Sogolon a slightly more sympathetic protagonist, so those of you who were fascinated by Marlon James’s writing, but were sick of Tracker’s chauvinism and bravado, will surely appreciate the change.

Content Warning: Gore – Violence – Death – Rape – Torture – Child abuse – Slavery – Child death

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