Book Review: The Leopard

The Leopard by K.V. Johansen, Marakand #1

In the days of the first kings in the North, there were seven devils…

Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror. Although he has no reason to trust the goddess Catairanach or her messenger Deyandara, fugitive heir to a murdered tribal queen, desperation leads him to accept her bargain: if he kills the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach will free him of his curse. Accompanying him on his mission is the one person he has let close to him in a lifetime of death, a runaway slave named Ghu. Ahj knows Ghu is far from the half-wit others think him, but in Marakand, the great city where the caravan roads of east and west meet, both will need to face the deepest secrets of their souls, if either is to survive the undying enemies who hunt them and find a way through the darkness that damns the Leopard.

To Marakand, too, come a Northron wanderer and her demon verrbjarn lover, carrying the obsidian sword Lakkariss, a weapon forged by the Old Great Gods to bring their justice to the seven devils who escaped the cold hells so long before.

 When Pyr showed their spring-summer titles of 2014, one book leapt out of the catalog, The Leopard. What I always say when I get a Pyr book is: look at that amazing cover. They really have some of artistic covers, though they always say, don't judge a book by it's cover, I would have bought this solely to showcase the front! The Leopard is the first book in a duology termed Marakand with The Lady out this fall, The Leopard isn't the first book that is set in the world of Marakand, K.V. Johansen's Blackdog also took place in the same world of Marakan, though there is a whole new focus for The Leopard, with new characters but also some old acquaintances make for a reappearance. Though I read a wide range of genre fiction my true "love" lies at the Epic Sword and Sorcery fantasy and these themes are shown in full detail in The Leopard. It has a lot of classic elements working in it's favor, which often can get heavy, but K.V. Johansen spins them in her own way to produce one engaging, action packed story. 

One of the most alluring things about The Leopard for me was the prologue to the story (which you can read over at the website). It readily sets a certain dark tone for the story but also triggered in me a lot of questions, who are we looking at exactly and what could the follow-up and link be between this and the remainder of the story. What really sets the mood for this Epic adventure were the sentences: "In the days of the first kings of the north, there were seven wizards" and "And in the days of the first kings of the north, there were seven devils" the mentioning of wizards, devils and demons just inspires a whole lot of promise for the story. If you read the excerpt, you can make up the writing style of K.V. Johansen and this is something that works in favor of the story. She writes epic fantasy to the point, there isn't a dwaddle in hammering on and on about a certain subject or piece of scenery instead you get what you read but she does it in a way that you don't miss out on the fine details of the story. This balanced narration readily helped to set the right pacing from the start of the story right down until the end, throwing the story into a nice rapid when the action took place and a more calm pacing when events were reflected upon or past events being told to you. 

After the prologue the story is divided into two parts, I am saying this because these are two different storylines. In the first part you are introduced to the assassin known as The Leopard, Ahjvar. Ahjvar has a past, he has been cursed, and he doesn't want to live anymore, basically he is tired or it all. A possibility of relieve comes to him in the form of the goddess Catairanach, she sends her messenger, Deyandara to Ahjvar with the message that if he preforms a certain task, his curse will be lifted. In order to get his curse removed, the famous Leopard has to preform one final task, assassinate the Voice of Marakand. Ahjvar accepts this task albeit in a reluctant way. The assassination job is a pretty straight forward one, the Voice of Marakand is a well known person in Marakand. Though this job might sound like a one deal for such an excellent assassin, it seems that Ahjvar fate has been spinned in a certain direction... Not for his better. Accompanying Ahjvar on this task is Ghu. Ghu and Ahjvar have been traveling together for sometime now, Ghu comes over as a bit of an slow person, but he soon proves to be far from this. Later on in the story you see that Ghu is much more than he has first let one, working for the better. Just as Ahjvar, Ghu has his own demons that he has to face. He and Ahjvar get separated and they stories are subsequently told from their perspectives, I liked how they both acted in their storylines, eventhough separated they do think about what the other is facing. And when something happens with Ahjvar, Ghu is torn between what he should do with Ahjvar. And this is pretty much where their story ends. K.V. Johansen leaves their story on quite a cliffhanger moment. 

As for the second part of the book, here old acquaintances are being introduced. Those from Blackdog. I still have Blackdog on my TBR pile, so I don't know how that story went down but a quick scan on the synopsis showed the same names. In the second part of the book you don't focus on Ghu, Deyandara or Ahjvar, but instead on the Moth, Mikki and some other "special" characters. These aren't you average humans, no think of shapeshifters, half-demons and demons. I was very pleased with this introduction as this directly plays into the premise of the Epic Sword and Sorcery story that K.V. Johansen writes in The Leopard. Ok so what happens in the second part? Other forces aren't in favor of the Lady of Marakand and the Voice of Marakand as well, because even though Ahjvar got rid of the last Voice of Marakand a new one has arisen... One who has even more dangerous plans. There is only one person who can get rid of The Lady... Also there is a lot of exposition in the latter part of the book, which was really appreciated. In the first part of the book you get to see the current events as they go by, in the second part K.V. Johansen delves deeper into the past of her world and recalls several histories that really help make the story come together. Just as similar as the first part of the story K.V. Johansen leaves this part of the story on just a cliffhanger moment as well! 

With splitting up the story in this way, K.V. Johansen has created an interesting type of narration. Even though there are two separate stories present, you don't loose sight of one or the other, this is owed to the clear and easy writing style of K.V. Johansen. In the story of The Leopard you can clearly see that she is building up a foundation of her world and the inevitable events that will take place in the sequel. Leaving both parts on a cliffhanger moment readily leaves you wanted to read the sequel immediately. Nicely done. 

Now for what a lot of Epic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery fans want to see in book. Action. Non-stop, cool stuff, unbound elemental magic. From the beginning of the book down to the ending there are some pretty tight and intense fighting scenes. Early on in comes to show that K.V. JOhansen has a great way of bringing over the fighting scenes to the reader, they aren't all one on one person but often with multiples. When I read such a fighting scene it always reminds me of controlled choas. Letting the action get intense showing multiple perspectives of the fight itself but not letting the story run rampant. I can only imagine that it must take skill to be able to put that down, just throwing the pacing of the story up a few levels before letting the story wind down when the action is over, just perfect.  

With The Leopard, K.V. Johansen has created an action packed Epic Fantasy story that will suit the needs of every fan. It's not the first book in the Marakand universe but you don't have to have read Blackdog to enjoy it. K.V. Johansen describes the world, it surrounding and everything in it with nice details but keeping the story to the point maintaining a nice pacing all throughout the story. The Leopard is exactly such a book that you want to read when you pick up an Epic Fantasy book. Full of action, magic, betrayals and K.V. Johansen tops it off with shapeshifters and demons, what is there not to like! The narration of the book was done in a most interesting way, dividing the book into two part with two separate storylines that are both left on a cliffhanger moment. I am eager to see how the stories will converge in the sequel, The Lady, which Pyr will publish later this year. Definitely a recommendation.


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