I’m one of those readers who actually likes being thrown straight into the action. Immerse me in a deluge of strange names, exotic places, magical races, or warring kingdoms, I love it. Nothing entertains me more than trying to decipher the strangeness of a new world. So when I stumbled upon The Leopard, this novel seemed to be right up my alley.
You see, K.V. Johansen does indeed drop a reader into a massive world in this novel. There are many different things going on beneath the surface of the story. Gods and demons are stirring in the world. Kingdoms are going to war with one another. And along one lonely highway, a wayward daughter of kings is on a divine mission to find a legendary assassin named The Leopard.
In fact, the story really begins when Deyandara actually finds Ahjvar (aka The Leopard) and his manservant Ghu. Naturally, he has to be persuaded to become involved in the task that Deyandara has come calling for, but it is not as simple as The Leopard is retired or needs a certain amount of gold or anything so trite. Rather he does not wish to return to a land where something horrible happened to him and changed him forever!
The why, how or when of The Leopard’s change are what made his story so compelling. So when Ahjvar and Ghu finally head off toward this city and the goddess that needs The Leopard’s services, it suggested big excitement and revelations ahead.
But things developed a little slow. Not glacier-like but still really slow. That was fine with me, because, you know, it is hard to get an epic fantasy off the runway, so to speak. And frankly, I was willing to wait, because Ahjvar had began to have all the tell-tale signs of being a formidable anti-hero, Ghu the loyal and trusted friend, trying to steer his benefactor away from evil, and Deyandara playing the role of young, naive girl soon to grow up into an assertive and dangerous queen to be reckoned with. At least, that was my initial take on the story, but then a couple things in the novel derailed my enjoyment of it.
One, the writing style. I have no problem with epic fantasy novels that dump loads of lore down on your heads. As I mentioned, I actually love that sort of stuff. What I do have a problem with is when the massive amounts of information have no importance to the actual story. And here, Johansen transformed the simplest of human endeavors into over analyzed page burners that would cause a single paragraph to run pages in length. Way too much info dumping for even me, especially since this was the norm for most of the book.
Two, the pacing of the story was very, very slow then – with almost no transition – it hit overdrive in Part Two before slamming on breaks at the end. Just a roller coaster ride and not in a good way.
Three, Johansen choose to tell this story in two parts with each being distinctively separate from the other – including having different stories and characters. I realize some fantasy novels have done this (Tolkien’s The Two Towers comes to mind), but in those novels, there was a distinct and very apparent connection between the two sections. At least in the Tolkien example, the two parts had the same core characters introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring as well as Tolkien providing a perfectly clear reason for the narrative to diverge into two, distinct paths. Here, Johansen did neither of those things, and one minute a reader is following along behind The Leopard and his group before they disappear and a whole new group of faces come on stage with no real introduction. The transition is so jarring that I felt as if I had started reading a different book by accident.
Four, I really felt as if I should have read Johansen’s novel Blackdog before I read this one. It seemed that, over and over again, the second part of the book was mentioning things that I assume were explored in depth in that novel, but which I had absolutely no idea about. If Blackdog was required reading for this novel that would have been fine by me, but I would have been nice to have been placed on notice of that fact.
With those things being said, it is fairly evident that The Leopard and I did not hit it off, if you will. It is not a bad book by any means, just not for me. Still, even I can admit that it has a good foundations to develop into an entertaining series. Johansen has crafted a huge world with immense lore and history, and The Leopard himself was shaping up to be a really nice anti-hero – before he disappeared from the story. So if the next book in the Marakand series can get back to those subjects, I believe it will, without a doubt, be a fantasy must read.
The publisher provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.