The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
by Margaret Killjoy
Tor.com, 2017; 112 pp
Reviewed by Britny Brooks
Then I saw the deer. The bloodred deer stalked down the hill, the last remnants of the sun at his back, his three antlers in sharp silhouette. (25)
I would be lying if I didn’t say that this cover—with the image of a graceful, three-antlered demon deer caught in the ripples of some unknown source of water—wasn’t one of the reasons I was initially drawn to this novella. What made The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion even more exciting was finding out that the allure and dark magic promised on the cover had thoroughly saturated the story about Danielle, who is looking for answers about her friend’s suicide and the utopian anarchist community that she stumbles into that must confront its rogue demon deer.
Killjoy also does a fantastic job of working with this literary genre instead of trying to cram complicated backstories, motivations, and explanations that are often found in longer works of fantasy. While some might feel that the quick pace and the lack of explanation about how the characters were able to summon the protective demon deer, Uliksi, are negatives, I believe that it strengthens the bond between the reader and Danielle. The story takes place over three days, and both the reader and Danielle have walked into a situation that neither has any ideas about or answers beyond what is given to them or what they can figure out. It is a smart decision, and it allows Killjoy to focus on the idea of power, which is truly the dark core of the story, as she explores the problem with hierarchical societies and whether or not it is possible to dismantle systems of oppression in the Anarchist utopia of Freedom, Iowa.
The lack of extra background information almost means that there is more room for the romantic and emotional subplots of this small cast of refreshing queer characters. Danielle Cain is a flawed but resourceful protagonist, and you can tell that Killjoy took the time to craft and understand each of her characters. In a story where a lot of the conflict comes from the cast of characters wrestling with ideas at the core of their beliefs, it is great to have a writer who took the time to write complex and authentic characters. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion works as a perfect stand-alone story. However, it is labelled as “Danielle Cain #1” which can only mean that there will be even more wonderfully dark and magical adventures with Danielle and her friends to come, and that is a journey that I’m more than happy to follow.