Fuck the gods!, as the protagonist of this epic would put it, this clearly is a 5-star-read, and I don't even like fantasy! James takes his readers to an ancient, otherwordly Africa, where themes of Greek and African mythology merge into a sprawling tale about the battles between different tribes and kingdoms, all of them with their own beliefs, powers, and cultures. We join our narrator Tracker, who possesses the gift of a heightened sense of smell, in the quest for a young boy -but the first sentences already give away the ending: "The child is dead. There is nothing left to know." The focus of this novel is on searching, and in more than one way.
In the central storyline of the book, Tracker joins a gang of characters who aim to find the mysterious boy for their powerful client - but at that point, they don't know who the boy really is and what they are getting themselves into. Among this illustrous group are a witch, a killer with superhuman strength, a magical buffalo, and of course Tracker's lover, the shape-shifting Leopard (and yes, Red Wolf is Tracker himself, but you have to find out why by reading the novel! :-)). The group roams the lands in search of the boy, encountering all kinds of people and creatures along the way.
Ultimately, angry and sensitive Tracker, who has no family, is searching for purpose, for meaning. He himself seems to be unsure whether he is good or even striving for what's good, but he clearly perceives the vacuousness in the hate and violence around him. He is lost and trying to be found - but by what? My guess is that this question may be central to the whole Dark Star Trilogy.
Another captivating aspect of the book is the way James adds more and more stories to that of Tracker: There are no shifting points of view, rather, other perspectives are revealed through storytelling. Yes, there are numerous stories the characters tell each other, thus creating a written text that heavily relies on oral traditions. The people choose to reveal themselves to Tracker, and often, they prove to be unreliable narrators, omitting important details or giving false Information. This narrative technique adds a lot of suspense to the overall story and depth to the characters.
On top of that, James shines with his inventive language - he manages to give his characters unique voices that do not only convey thoughts and information, but reflect the spirits of the speakers. In fact, I would claim that it's the characters who make this story so addictive: Sure, the chase for the boy is suspenseful and the narrative arc is very smart, but the fascinating, often contradictory personalities of Tracker, Leopard, Sadogo and the others are what glues the reader to this text.
Asked when the next installment of the trilogy will be published, James answered: "Well, my publisher thinks in two years." I really hope it won't take longer! :-)