Book Review: 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion'
Nomadic punk rocker Danielle Cain is weary of what humanity has offered her over the past decade. But the suicide of her best friend, Clay, spurs Danielle to visit the unincorporated squatter town of Freedom, Iowa—the place Clay loved and called home. While searching for answers to Clay’s death, Danielle becomes entangled with a blood-red, three-antlered deer spirit that was summoned to protect the people of Freedom. To understand Clay’s suicide, Danielle must discover why the deer spirit has turned on the people who summoned it.
Margaret Killjoy’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is the first installment of the Danielle Cain series. Although the novel was published in 2017, I recently came upon this story when searching for diversity in horror and dark fantasy. An edgy and dark urban (decay) fantasy, this novel delivers on what I was looking for: a fresh and contemporary look at setting and characters in speculative fiction.
Right from the get-go, Danielle was all I ever wanted in a character—jaded, bitter, no-nonsense, and will stab if necessary. She won my heart in the first two pages, and my attachment to her grew as I witnessed her loyalty to Clay’s memory and her resolve in helping those in need. Danielle is one of the most relatable characters that I have read. She is a fully developed person with flaws, talents, inner-demons, and inner-strengths.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is fast-paced and energetic, losing no time in bringing Danielle into the strangeness that is happening in Freedom. She takes it all in stride, having seen her share of oddities in the world during her previous travels, laying a foundation for a style that is coded into Killjoy’s writing: acceptance. The interactions between characters also display acceptance on various levels. One of Danielle’s first interactions with someone from Freedom is the casual asking for each other's pronouns. This interaction is a small and quick part of the scene that didn’t draw attention to itself but left a lasting and influential impression on me.
Killjoy’s descriptions of Freedom, those who pass through there, and the strange creatures roaming the area are artfully written. The setting and creatures are enchanting illustrations of life among corrosion. The characters populating Freedom thrive in this place, all at once a part of the town and never belonging to it. These captivating depictions of abandonment filling the novel can be felt as Killjoy’s chimerical and succinct writing moves the reader along.
The story descends into a bizarre and exhilarating narrative where magic is as real as the corruption of human-made social structures. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is dark tale of humanity off-set by the goodness in individuals and the beautiful need for freedom. With delightfully fetid imagery, fans of horror and dark fantasy looking for contemporary and representative characters will love this entertaining and spirited read.
Author: Margaret Killjoy
Cover courtesy of Tor.com