The Book of Night Women

Written by Marlon James
Review by Troy Reed

The Book of Night Women is a beautifully written, sweeping tale of Jamaican slavery set in the early 19th century. The story centers on Lilith, a slave born on the Montpelier Estate, a large sugar plantation, where life is ruled by danger and fear. Lilith comes of age and kills a black slave driver who attempts to rape her. This event marks Lilith from the other slaves, who begin to both fear and revere her for they sense that she possess a dark power hidden within. Members of a group which calls itself the Night Women keep their eye on Lilith and bring her into their secret circle. At their meetings, Lilith learns they are plotting a slave revolt of massive proportion that involves several plantations. She hesitates to participate, but the Night Women see her as a force that could really help their cause, and Lilith is torn between her feelings.

James portrays his dynamic and flawed characters in a complex, stratified society where many boundaries, some known and some unspoken, exist between slaves and their masters as well as among the slaves themselves. The authentic voice of the narrator, who remains a mystery until the end, moves the story along at a brisk pace. Strong language abounds, and the entire novel is written in a slave dialect which adds to the story, making it a realistic, engaging read. James portrays the violence as it really was, absolutely horrific, and does not hold back. One of the most satisfying parts of the novel is James’s exploration of the power of love to transform one’s thinking. This tale of freedom, hope, survival, and unlikely love is unique and will continue to make readers think. Marlon James is an extremely gifted writer whose next book I eagerly anticipate.