Marlon James’ Follow-Up to ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ Is an African Mythology-Inspired Fantasy Trilogy


Entertainment Weekly reports that A History of Seven Killings author Marlon James is following that massive, Man Booker Prize winning tome up with something even more extensive: a fantasy trilogy series. It’s called The Dark Star Trilogy, and will be composed of the novels Black Leopard, Red Wolf; Moon Witch, Night Devil; and The Boy and the Dark Star.

James, a self-described sci-fi/fantasy geek, was inspired by a variety of sources — from African mythology to Dragonslayer to Game of Thrones to Ursula K. Le Guin. His fantasy series follows three mercenary characters who’re locked in the dungeon of a dying king’s castle as they await the trial for the death of a child they’d been tasked to find — a search that took them nine years instead of the expected two months, and ended with the child, and five other mercenaries, perishing. Each book in the trilogy will focus on a different mercenary’s perspective (each, he says, is something of a “witness testimony”) of what happened over those years — and in the interview with EW that accompanied the announcement, it’s no surprise that James also mentions Kurosawa’s Rashoman as another influence.

James discusses how the idea for the trilogy came about via an argument about the whiteness of fantasy casting:

I remember saying, “You know, if an Asian or a black hobbit came out of the Shire, nobody would have cared. We would have just moved on.” And my friend said, “Well, Lord of the Rings is all this British and Celtic mythology.” And I said, “Well, you know… Lord of the Rings isn’t real.” It just turned into one of these arguments we have about diversity and inclusion. 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.”

James discusses it as a chance to pair his geekiness with his studies of African epics like The Epic of Son-Jara and The Epic of Askia Mohammed, saying that the “touch point for the story would probably be just after the dawn of the Iron Age,” but that the setting itself is a made-up place, à la Middle Earth. He mentions his reasoning for not focusing too closely on history, as he did in Seven Killings with Jamaica and New York in the latter half of the 20th century:

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.

But despite the desire to eschew too much earth-bound historical specificity, the research for this project is still deeply based on real cultures. Beyond studying African myth, the Jamaican author discusses devoting time to learning a variety of African languages so as to potentially invent his own language for his book, as Tolkien did with Elvish.

Read the full interview.