The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, by Margaret Killjoy
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Release Date: August 15, 2017
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy pits utopian anarchists against rogue demon deer in this dropkick-in-the-mouth punk fantasy that Alan Moore calls “scary and energetic.”
Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveler, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however: things went awry after the town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner.
Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit — a blood-red, three-antlered deer — begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town — or get out alive.
A story of ancient witchcraft among modern-day vagabonds, and about the hope we find in the strangest of places.
Content Warning for:
Mention of past Suicide
I do not always have luck with horror stories because I often cannot tell in advance whether it’s the scary kind that I like or the gory kind that I can’t stomach and usually can’t even finish. This short horror novella is a scary one and doesn’t focus on violence, although there is some, but it is not very explicit.
Moreover, for the most part of the book, it is rather diffusely scary since it’s unclear what is going on or why, and much of the creepiness depends on the not knowing. I love that. There were some turns of events that made me hold my breath, and I think it’s brilliant how the author is transporting this dread often with just a sentence or two.
Also, there are birds… And I just had a full-body shiver with goosebumps and all, just writing this down.
The book features several LGBTQIA characters who all have their own hinted at background, but, interestingly, this is not important for the story at hand. I really liked that, though, because it gives the characters depth and I think it is a great representation as well.
I liked the language in this novella. It is elegant yet simple, somehow down to earth yet beautiful. I’m sure it’s a reason why I was hooked from the very beginning when I started reading the book. Another reason is that there are often some interesting details in situations that give insight into the characters and help build the scenes, which is also the case for the opening scene of the book that starts with Danielle and a knife in a car.
The setting is a contemporary one, although there is some magic involved, and the story takes place in a mostly-abandoned small town. I liked the combination of seclusion and connectivity via means like mobile phones and Instagram.
The thematic background of anarchy and commune living, for a lack of a better word, was interesting to me, although I don’t actually think about alternative society models that much. I am sure other readers might even enjoy this more than I did.
Some questions this book raises concerning this are: Is life in a group or society possible without any kind of authority? And if not authority, then maybe entity or belief? Or is there always something? Something that people adhere to or use, be it on purpose or not…
The solution to, not these questions, but the scary demon thingie in the book— I have to say, I am not quite sure about it. I don’t exactly feel let down by it, but it felt a tiny bit rushed to me, and that way a bit hard to understand. At least I got the feeling that I was missing out, a little. But I do see how the solution fits into the theme of anarchy and power, and, like I said, I am not bummed about it, just there was more potential in the execution, I guess.
However, the atmosphere, the writing style, and the characters make this a very compelling read and I leave you with my favourite quote. I needed to hear that again and am grateful I found it here.
“Today, though, today you’re alive. Today you’re free.”
Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author, born and raised in Maryland, who has spent her adult life traveling with no fixed home. A life on the road has given her a healthy respect for hobos, street kids, and other elements of the criminal class. A 2015 graduate of Clarion West, Margaret’s short fiction has been published by Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Vice’s Terraform, and Fireside Fiction amongst others. She founded SteamPunk Magazine in 2006, and her nonfiction books have been published by anarchist publisher AK Press. She is the author of A Country of Ghosts, a utopian novel published by Combustion Books in 2014.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.