REVIEW: THE LEOPARD / AUTHOR: K.V. JOHANSEN / PUBLISHER: RANDOM HOUSE INTERNATIONAL / RELEASE DATE: JULY 10TH
There is something heart-warmingly old-fashioned about K.V. Johansen’s latest novel, The Leopard. The fantasy genre is currently full to the brim with gritty and post-modern versions of A Game of Thrones or overly dark retellings of Lord of the Rings. The Leopard bucks this trend by drawing on a legacy of pulpy, swords and sandals-style tales reminiscent of The Wheel of Time series but with a classic edge that feels as if it’s come from the 1950s.
The plot is nicely convoluted. The titular Leopard is an assassin called Ahjvar suffering from a rather nasty necromantic curse. It is a fiendishly unbreakable problem, which we’ll leave vague to avoid spoilers, but it is quite wicked, if not terribly original. One of the ways he can get out of it is to murder a false prophet, known as the Voice of Markand, who happens to have a horde of horrific minions (called Red Masks) running across the land causing all sorts of strife.
Ajvar isn’t a very likeable central protagonist and seems very keen to avoid getting involved in anything. Thankfully, the rest of the cast of characters keep the reader engaged. Deyandara the bard works partially because she’s also the world’s most reluctant noble and mostly because she’s a strong character with actual motivation. She’s helped by the perpetually put-upon Ghu who seems the most competent yet least capable member of the party. As the adventure progresses, things get even more involved and Johansen clearly delights in thinking up new ways to surprise her readers; the novel is filled with all sorts of pleasing twists.
Johansen’s style is not for everyone; there is a steady rhythm to the writing that does not change throughout the novel. It doesn’t matter if the characters are sharing a meal or fighting ghoulish minions – the pace remains painstakingly detailed throughout. Though this makes for an easy read, it also means it’s a little bland at times and coupled with a very dark tone, this may be unpalatable for some. It suffers greatly from being part one of a set - a lot of the more interesting twists and turns are clearly set-ups for the next part in the series and this means that The Leopard has an unsatisfying ending, but one quite likely to leave you wanting more.