The Leopard

K. V. Johansen
The Leopard Cover

The Leopard


The Leopard was a really tough book to rate and as I sit down to write this review, I find myself waffling back and forth on my thoughts. For one thing, I did not expect the unconventional structure, effectively dividing the novel into two separate parts. Because The Leopard is also the first installment of a duology, with the bulk of the story still left untold in book two, it's also hard to decide how I really feel based on what happened here alone.

After the prologue, we are introduced to Deyandara, a bastard tribal princess who suddenly becomes her mother's sole heir when everyone else in the family was murdered. But before this news even has the chance to settle, Deyandara is made messenger to the goddess Catairanach, who sends her on a quest to seek out the assassin known as the Leopard. Said assassin, whose true name is Ahjvar, is a cursed man who only wants to die, taking his burden to the grave. However, Deyandara's message from the goddess changes all that. If he accepts her mission to kill the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach promises to free him from his curse. Along with his companion the escaped slave Ghu, Ahj sets off to perform this one final task.

Then we reach Part Two of the novel, which features a whole cast of different characters, apparently bringing back some of the familiar faces for those who have read Blackdog, an earlier novel based in K.V. Johansen's world of the Marakand. We don't get to see much (or anything) of Deyandara, Ahjvar or Ghu again. I don't even know what more I can say beyond that, since Part Two also really lost me, and I found myself struggling through the rest of the novel. The truth is, while I ate up Part One, I practically had to force myself through Part Two, and almost had to throw in the towel. I spent most of the time trying to care about Moth, Mikki, and the other new characters, but never quite managed.

Though it is not necessary to read Blackdog first before tackling The Leopard, I wonder if I would have enjoyed this second part more if I had. At the very least, I think I would have felt more of a connection to the characters, this group of mysterious shapeshifters and otherworldly beings whose convoluted activities only seem to have a tenuous link to the storyline I read in Part One. In Part Two we see that Ahj's activities have resulted in some rather strong ripples, but I still found it hard to stay focused since all the while Ahjvar, Deyandara and Ghu remained ever present in the back of my mind. It wasn't long until I realized I wish I could have been reading about them instead.

This book won't be for everyone; because of the vast difference in my feelings for the two different story lines, I still wonder if it is for me. Johansen's style also takes getting used to. She clearly loves detail, but it's a double-edged sword. The wonderful descriptions that made Part One such a vivid and scintillating experience also made Part Two feel lagging and tedious – though no doubt this has a lot to do with how effectively each story line captured my attention. My love of the setting was a constant, however; I'm a big fan of sword and sorcery set in Middle Eastern and Eastern influenced worlds, and Johansen's writing is perfect for bringing this environment to life.

The world of Marakand really is quite lovely, and I enjoy its people, cultures and magic. But it wasn't enough, because ultimately the main issue I had with this book was its structure. It's one thing to weave two different storylines in tandem, it's quite another to place a very distinct split in the middle of a novel. I put a lot of stock in characters and I'm usually extremely averse to the idea of drastic changes in players or perspective, so I don't think this book worked for me – but it might for you.