If you’re not already familiar with Jamaican author Marlon James, now is the time to become familiar, as he’s had a great last couple of years! Most notably, his latest novel (also his 3rd), “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” published by Riverhead Books, was awarded the 2015 prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction – a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK. The winner of the Man Booker Prize is generally assured a certain amount of international renown and success, which James has been enjoying. This marked the first time that a Jamaican-born author won the prize. According to the BBC: “[Man Booker judge Michael] Wood said the judges came to a unanimous decision in less than two hours. He praised the book’s ‘many voices’ – it contains more than 75 characters – which ‘went from Jamaican slang to Biblical heights’.”
The novel spans several decades and explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976 and its aftermath – through the crack wars in New York City in the 1980s and a changed Jamaica in the 1990s. It’s an *epic* read, and you should pick up a copy for yourself.
In addition to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction win, HBO optioned the novel, and is planning a TV series based on it. James will be adapting his novel for the small screen, working closely with screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Munich”).
And on top of that, the author shared in 2015 that for his follow-up to “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” he will “geek the fuck out” as he said in a press interview at the time, and create his own fantasy series, describing what he had in mind as “an African Game of Thrones.”
The author said: “I realized how sick and tired I was of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in ‘Lord of the Rings.’ African folklore is just as rich, and just as perverse as that shit. We have witches, we have demons, we have goblins, and mad kings. We have stories of royal succession that would put ‘Wolf Hall’ to shame. We beat the Tudors two times over.”
Indeed! His enthusiasm will hopefully be contagious.
I’d however be remiss if I didn’t add that there have been black writers who’ve written “Game of Thrones”-like fantasy novels, so James certainly won’t be the first. I think he’s just in a position that others who came before him haven’t enjoyed, thanks to his winnings and all the press attention, mainstream awareness and more, that have come along with that. The HBO option of “Seven Killings,” partnering him up with a multiple Oscar nominated/winning writer to develop, certainly put him in rare air.
We learned today, courtesy of an exclusive interview that James gave to Entertainment Weekly, that his “African Game of Thrones’ novel series, which he’s been writing for the last year+, now has an official title, a plot and a release date eyed.
Described as an epic fantasy trilogy to be published by Riverhead Books, the novel series will be titled “The Dark Star Trilogy,” and will comprise of three novels titled “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”; “Moon Witch, Night Devil”; and “The Boy and the Dark Star.”
As for story, the series will follow three characters — the Tracker, the Moon Witch, and the Boy. According to the official summary, the 3 of them are “locked in a dungeon in the castle of a dying king, awaiting torture and trial for the death of a child. They were three of eight mercenaries (the other 5 die) who had been hired to find the child; the search, expected to take two months, took nine years.” The story of each character, how they ended up where they are, and what happened over those nine years will be at the center of the novels — one perspective per book.
Adds James: “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.”
Per the EW report, the novels will be feature “a rich world brimming with African myths and legends, fantastical creatures, and other accouterments of [the author’s] own imagination.”
The setting is fictional of course; “It’s more Middle Earth than say, Mogadishu,” James said. “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 […] It’s a little bit Dark Ages in Europe… 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.”
And there’s more. If you’d like to read the full EW interview with James, click here.
As for when we can expect the novel to hit bookstores, James said he’s eyeing the fall of 2018, so we’ve got almost 2 years to wait. The obvious next question is whether, like his Man Booker Prize-winning previous novel, this fantasy trilogy will also be optioned for either TV or film adaptation.
In the meantime, you can pick up James’ “A Brief History of Seven Killings” via Amazon here. The book was as an Amazon “#1 Bestseller.”
Also, watch a 20-minute interview below the author gave to Charlie Rose: