Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious suicide, Danielle ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa, and witnesses a protector spirit—in the form of a blood-red, three-antlered deer—begin to turn on its summoners. She and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town—or get out alive.
My pre-order arrived an entire day early and I was like, “Yes, I’m going to binge-read this and ignore all the Nazis!” and then my three-year-old was like, “LOL, parents don’t have time to binge-read books.” Thus, a 130-page novella took me four days to read. It would probably be best appreciated it in one sitting, but there is something kind of fun about sneaking a few pages here and there, mostly on buses (with people giving you odd looks as they peer over your shoulder and spot details about demon deer mutilating people) or sitting on the front-step of my house while my kid zoomed back and forth on his bike. At one point I may have said, “Can you please go and annoy your dad, I literally have two pages left” and he promptly stuck his head right into my book. So, yeah, welcome to: a post-Evangelical mum reviews a novella about anarchist punks whose utopia is haunted by a three-antlered demon deer whom they summoned with witchcraft. Also, everyone is gay or trans or both. So if any of those things is unappealing to you, head on over to my reviews of Amish romances from 2010 instead. Also, I say damn occasionally in this review, and I know that might offend some people, so consider yourselves warned.
Whenever I read something written in first-person point of view, I remember just how much I love it. Almost everything I’ve read by Margaret Killjoy has been writing from this perspective, and she just does it so well. Her characters have these wonderful snarky, honest internal monologues that flow throughout her stories, revealing just enough backstory at the right time, never info-dumping, always making you feel like you intimately know the character but always wanting just a little bit more. I loved that Danielle, the protagonist of The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, retained her sarcastic wittiness even in the midst of tragedy and panic, as well as her appreciation for the utopia of the town of Freedom. She can flip between freaking out over demon deer, being sarcastic about how awful her situation is, and admire the collection of herbs grown in the town, all in the space of a few pages. That’s kind of how my brain works too, so Danielle felt pretty realistic to me.
Her characters have these wonderful snarky, honest internal monologues that flow throughout her stories, revealing just enough backstory at the right time, never info-dumping, always making you feel like you intimately know the character but always wanting just a little bit more.
When Danielle enters Freedom, we’re introduced to a wonderful collection of characters. And by that I mean, none of them are boring straight white dudes. There are no “token diverse characters” in this book–all of them felt entirely authentic and had their part to play in the story. I became especially fond of Brynn, and intrigued by Doomsday as more of her backstory emerged. I bang on about communes and creating authentic, autonomous communities all the time in real life (at one point I think we had a tally going for the number of times I shouted “We should all just live in a commune!” during Bible study) so obviously I liked the setting of Freedom, and the house Danielle shared with her friends. I’ve read a few stories set in squat houses recently and I find them really intriguing, but I try not to romanticise them too much as I actually own a house and pay a stupid amount of money on a mortgage and still have a mouldy bathroom floor and cupboards that are falling apart and no one ever does the dishes and there’s weird artwork tacked to all the walls and our idea of decorating is “throw more cushions and blankets over the stains on the sofa” so I frequently remind myself that it’s basically an expensive squat house.
Back to representation and diversity: I read Margaret’s Invisible People earlier this year (which is accessible through her Patreon) and it was at a point where I just wasn’t capable of writing reviews, but I did take the chance to write “This is possibly the most accurate depiction of anxiety that I’ve ever read.” It’s definitely stuck with me, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a decent fictional depiction of someone who struggles with anxiety before. Danielle in The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lamb is possibly the second one I can come across, and maybe I’m just reading the wrong books, but someone other than Margaret Killjoy must be writing about characters who battle anxiety and experience panic attacks, right? Because I know at least five people in life who deal with anxiety on a daily basis, myself not included. I’m (thankfully) past the point of having full-blown panic attacks, and my anxiety is mostly related to stress or being around large groups of people (so Edinburgh during Festival season is genuinely terrifying for me, especially with a small child, apologies if you’ve wondered why we’ve barely ventured into town this month) but I’m still so grateful for characters like Danielle, where their entire story isn’t Let Me Tell You About This Mysterious Thing Called Anxiety, but just, battling demon deer but also having to deal with anxiety because it doesn’t magically go away just because something big is going on.
I’m still so grateful for characters like Danielle, where their entire story isn’t Let Me Tell You About This Mysterious Thing Called Anxiety, but just, battling demon deer but also having to deal with anxiety because it doesn’t magically go away just because something big is going on.
So, demon deer. I didn’t used to read stuff featuring witchcraft because I grew up in a very superstitious Pentecostal church who talked about demons all the damn time, and as a child I used to be terrified of accidentally summoning a demon. I sometimes experience sleep paralysis and have since I was about eight or nine, and this, uh, interesting upbringing resulted in me being convinced that demons visited me in my sleep until quite recently. Also, we were discouraged from reading books featuring witches, watching TV shows featuring them (sorry, Sabrina) and even listening to B*Witched the pop-group. Also, apparently all of the Pokemon characters were manifestations of different demons and someone wrote a book on this but I can’t find it anywhere on the internet, but I promise you, it was a thing. So, all of this to say: This is probably the first book I’ve read featuring demons or witchcraft in a really, really long time. Maybe ever? I’m really not familiar with this sort of thing, so I don’t have anything to compare it to in order to tell you whether or not it’s good.
As an anarchist, I did love the whole issue of “Town summons demon deer to take down evil leader, but actually they’re taking control of the town themselves with this spirit, and aren’t self-aware enough to realise they’ve just replaced one hierarchy with another”. I mean, this is a pretty specific niche, and I’m not sure if any of my usual readers are going to be like “Damn, that’s entirely the kind of book I want to read about” but I really appreciated this depiction of the constant desire to fix society and dismantle systems of oppression, only to just replace them with other, sometimes worse systems. Can we ever create an actual utopia devoid of hierarchical leadership, like Freedom tried to be? I have no idea. I hope so. There are more books about Danielle Cain and her friends, so maybe they’ll find or create that utopia eventually. Or just fight more demons. I’m also up for that.
There are more books about Danielle Cain and her friends, so maybe they’ll find or create that utopia eventually. Or just fight more demons. I’m also up for that.
I probably need to give this book another read, sometime when I’m not going to be interrupted by a small child demanding that I make him a play-doh spaceship, but I have managed to bash out a semi-coherent review, the first review I’ve written in about four months, so that’s worth celebrating. I often end my reviews with a suggestion of who I’d recommend this book for, but The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion covers so many niches that I don’t think I can give a decent suggestion. This was a definite step outside my comfort zone for me (see above comments about Pentecostal baggage) but I really enjoyed it. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the politics of maintaining utopias, you might enjoy Danielle’s quest to solve the mystery of her friend’s suicide, or the creepy not-entirely-dead animals stalking everyone in the town, or just the really authentic characters who all do really stupid things but they’re earnest and lovable, especially Brynn. I definitely want to learn more about Brynn in the next book.