You Had Me At “Queer Demon Hunters”: Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion

GAAAAAAHHHHHH!! Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, y’all. I mean. I can’t even. Like. It’s so good. It’s sooooooooo good. It’s very existence is a tonic for my troubled soul. And now having read it (twice!) it’s my everything. Open a new tab and buy this novella RIGHT. NOW. I’ll wait. ……… Done? Good. Now let’s talk about how awesome it is.

When Danielle Cain finally makes her way to the squatters’ settlement of Freedom, Iowa, it seems like a queer punk traveler’s home sweet home. It’s anarchy with structure, a free-for-all community run by shared responsibility. Or so they say. There’s a reason Danielle’s best friend Clay killed himself after abandoning Freedom. Just as there’s a reason suspicion, doubt, and mistrust saturate the town.

On her way into Freedom, Danielle encounters a three-antlered deer the color of freshly spilled blood, whom she later learns is a protector spirit called Uliksi. It was summoned by several Freedomers in a desperate bid to protect the town from further violence, but things quickly spiraled out of control. As the creature starts killing off its summoners, fear and unrest trigger a schism in the community. Civil war, police brutality, zombie animals, and a bloodthirsty ancient being converge on the commune and Danielle may be their last hope.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is a novella that feels like a novel. It’s deep and expansive, and while much of the details are few and far between, you hit the end knowing everything you need to. The plot breezes by but isn’t rushed. It’s a whole world in 130 pages. While the novella is categorized as dark contemporary fantasy, it also crosses into horror:

The sun sat fat and low on the western horizon, at the top of the street, and the last light of the day lent everything vivid faded colors White lambs, dappled with red and purple wounds, paced a circle around both lanes of the street, not twenty yards from where we stood. Geese dodged in and out between them, and a regal goat oversaw the parade Each had only a gaping wound where its rib cage had been, yet they lived. They opened their mouths to bellow and squaw and bleat, but their organ-less bodies let out only strange rasps…

A fluttering, above me, caught my eye. On the power lines, hundreds of birds without rib cages – sparrows and finches, jays and pigeons – cried dry and unholy, an angry jury to the trial below. I was transfixed. I can’t say if it was magic or shock. I can’t say the two are wholly distinct.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, Margaret Killjoy is a revelation. Her writing is crisp, taut, and stunningly evocative. She effortlessly bobs and weaves through supernatural thriller, horror, and romance, not sitting too long in one attitude but not coming off as jarring or disjointed either.

Danielle isn’t a girl you typically see in supernatural thrillers. She’s tough and hard, but isn’t a seasoned warrior or a Strong Female Character. She has to figure out how to take down Uliksi and the rebels like everyone else, all while dealing with her personal turmoil. Her co-conspirators—Vulture, a couple calling themselves Doomsday and Thursday, and Brynn, Danielle’s potential love interest—are a masterclass in how to reveal a character’s layers through action and dialogue rather than biographical infodumping.

Killjoy has crafted a world filled to the brim with queer people of all races, body types, and gender/sexual identities with fascinating and complex personalities. This isn’t an author playing with diversity. Killjoy is a trans punk anarchist, so there’s an undercurrent of the truth of experience in her story.

There’s a bit about halfway in where Danielle suffers a panic attack that hit a little too close to home for me. “It hit like a fever or drugs or something. A panic attack just drops you through the ice into freezing water. Even when you drag yourself out of the water, you’re left with the memory that forever-and-always, you’re walking on ice. It’s worse than anything. It’s worse than watching a demon eat a stranger’s heart.” Having gone through my own share of anxiety attacks over the years, the way Killjoy describes it was visceral. Just recalling my last anxiety attack last week and my heart is already racing and my fingers trembling. It’s rare to have anxiety/panic attacks described so realistically.

Tor.com is killing it right now with their novellas. And no, I’m not just saying that because I’m on the payroll. They’re publishing the kinds of stories no other mainstream house dares. I fell in love hard and fast with The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion. It was everything I never knew I wanted, and more. The ending wraps up most of the loose threads but leaves enough dangling to setup the forthcoming sequel, and you can bet your ass I’ll be there cash in hand the day it releases.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read an excerpt here.

Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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