The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy. ★★★1/2
I have continued to enjoy the offerings from the Tor.com novella line!
Danielle Cain is a young, queer, punk who’s spent the last decade hitch hiking across America. When her best friend kills himself, she ventures to the squatter town of Freedom, Iowa, her friend’s last location before his death. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for exactly, but she hopes to find answers.
What she finds is magic. Her friend was one of four collaborators who summoned a demon to watch over Freedom and serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Only, the demon may be going rogue, turning on its creators, and the townspeople are divided over whether they should continue trusting it or whether they should try to dispel it. Danielle’s wandered into a whole lot more than she counted on.
Let’s start with the positive. The demon was deliciously creepy. It looks like a deer with glowing red eyes and three antlers. Plus, it eats people’s hearts and is accompanied by a menagerie of undead animals. It gave me chills! The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion may very well be worth reading for that reason alone.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion was also full of queer characters, which I of course loved. Danielle has the start of what could become something romantic with another woman, and there’s all sorts of queer identities within the cast.
I’d also never read about a community like Freedom, a squatter, anarchist utopia. In some ways, its like reading about a whole different world, only it’s the sort of subculture that does exist alongside the mainstream society I know.
So, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion has a great concept, a super queer cast, and a novel setting. What’s missing? Danielle’s agency. She just didn’t drive the plot forward at all! She felt much more like an observer instead of an actor. I don’t think the standard notion that the protagonist always has to have agency is true, especially if it’s a story specifically about passivity. However, in this case, I really wish Danielle had more effect upon the course of the story.
Danielle’s lack of agency ended up being a pretty big sticking point, to the extent that I’m probably not going to read the sequel.