Marlon James has revealed the first details of his forthcoming fantasy trilogy, expected to begin appearing next year. Inspired by a row over The Hobbit and the desire to “geek the hell out of something”, the Man Booker prize winner is steeping himself in ancient African mythology with a view to creating a detailed, Tolkienesque fictional world.
James said the first of the three novels in the Dark Star sequence – titled Black Leopard, Red Wolf – should appear in autumn 2018. The following novels will be called Moon Witch, Night Devil and The Boy and the Dark Star.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the A Brief History of Seven Killings author said the books will draw on the rich heritage of African legend and language in the same way JRR Tolkien drew on Celtic and Norse mythology to create The Lord of the Rings.
“The very, very basic plot is [that] this slave trader hires a bunch of mercenaries to track down a kid who may have been kidnapped,” he told the US magazine in an interview. “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?’”
Each book will take the form of an eyewitness testimony that counters the previous book until the truth is revealed in the final installment, he added.
The row over The Hobbit concerned the lack of diversity in the cast of the film adaptation. “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,” he said.
A self-confessed “sci-fi geek”, the trilogy is a departure from the Jamaican-born writer’s three previous books, historical novels that deal with the colonial legacy. His last novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, which scooped the 2015 Man Booker prize, follows the attempt to assassinate singer Bob Marley in 1976 and its aftermath, through the crack wars of New York in the 1980s and back to Jamaica in the 1990s.
“I just became really fascinated with real, old, epic storytelling,” he said of the decision to move genres. “There are African epics that we still talk about – some of which are as old as Beowulf. Others, like The Epic of Son-Jara and The Epic of Askia Muhammad, I’ve been researching for years. When I started to really dig in to it, the book almost started writing itself.”
James said he had wanted 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’.”
The books are set in a fantasy world in an indeterminate period after the fall of the Roman empire, and will be set in ancient African kingdoms including Kush and Songhai.
James admitted he is enjoying creating a comprehensively imagined world. Though the 46-year old had “not yet” followed Tolkien’s lead by inventing a language, he was studying African languages with a view to doing so.