Charming Trouble: The Barrow Will Send What It May by Margaret Killjoy

Last summer, Margaret Killjoy introduced us to her itinerant anarchist protagonist Danielle (Dani) Cain in The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, a brief, elegant, bloody novella about power, social responsibility, consequences, and why it’s often a terrible idea to summon inhuman eternal spirits that you can’t control.

At the end of The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, Danielle and her surviving new friends—including Brynn, the woman for whom she’s developed an attraction and with whom she’s begun a tentative relationship—are on the run, with some unfortunate and inexplicable-to-the-law dead bodies in their wake. The Barrow Will Send What It May picks up immediately where Lamb left off, with Danielle, Brynn, and company on the road, heading west. The group is in some disagreement about whether they should prioritise flight (and staying ahead of any potential police interest) or using their new, hard-won knowledge of magic and the occult to investigate paranormal occurrences.

Their discussion is just a little premature, since they fall headlong into trouble again. (Naturally.) When Danielle falls asleep at the wheel and crashes their vehicle, Doomsday suggests a charm to bring them help. Help comes in the form of a woman who died and was returned to life six months later, who gives them a lift to the town where she lives, where there’s a library run by a pair of anarchists—squatters who’ve kept the library open and free after funding went away.

It turns out that one of the anarchists running the library has a collection of books on the occult. And it turns out, too, that there used to be more than two anarchists associated with the library. But a little while ago, three of them took a book up into the national park, in order to try to kill a bear and bring it back to life. Only one of them came back, and she hasn’t talked to anyone since.

Danielle and her friends find themselves investigating what happened and who’s responsible for the disappearance of the two anarchists and returning one local woman to life. They encounter magic and selfishness, death and power, and have to figure out what to do when the local necromancer finds out they’ve been poking into what he considers his business and sets a lynch mob after them.

Like The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, The Barrow Will Send What It May isn’t an enormously complicated piece of storytelling. Its charm lies in its characters, in Danielle’s first-person voice, halfway between thoughtfully meditative and confrontational, and in the raw believability of her feelings (and uncertainty about acting on those feelings) for Brynn. And Killjoy does really great work in distinguishing an unusually large cast of characters for a novella, compressing personality into compact description and dialogue.

The Barrow Will Send What It May is compelling in its depiction of a community of anarchists, this messy and well-meaning collection of individuals who poke their noses into things that seem suspicious because, well, they’re there, and why shouldn’t they take an interest? And it’s compelling, too, in its thematic concerns with personal and social responsibility, power, and the difference between selfishness and selflessness: its argument that why people do things matters, when it comes to what they do.

Killjoy’s prose is clean and precise, elegantly atmospheric. The Barrow Will Send What It May is a brisk and entertaining read, and I recommend it. It’s complete in itself, but it feels like a continuing installment of an ongoing adventure—and I hope this means that there will be more Danielle Cain novellas to come.

The Barrow Will Send What It May is available from Tor.com Publishing.
Read an excerpt from the novella here.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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