2017’s The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is the first story in Margaret Killjoy’s Danielle Cain series.
Determined to find out why her friend Clay killed himself, Danielle Cain travels to Freedom City. Once a ghost town, the community has been commandeered by idealistic anarchists determined to create a living utopia. Aside from one small detail, they appear to have succeeded.
Ulikski manifests on our plane of existence as a three-horned deer. Demon to some, guardian spirit to others, the entity wanders Freedom City stalking predators. It’s a bad town in which to be a fox or wolf; it’s just as bad to be a human seeking power over others. Case in point: Ulikski killed would-be strongman Desmond. The threat of Ulikski (and the fact that the civil authorities have overlooked the repopulation of Freedom) has permitted the remaining anarchists to live without fear of imposed hierarchy.
Demon or guardian, Ulikski has rules it follows without error or mercy. Soon after Danielle’s arrival, the entity stalks and kills Anchor. He was one of the people who summoned Ulikski, but that does not seem to have earned Anchor any leeway. Why Anchor died is unclear. Has Ulikski turned on the anarchists it once protected?
This novella is more diverse than one expects from urban fantasy. It’s annoying that this should be rare enough to be worthy of comment in 2018. It’s a pretty sucky 2018.
Summoning a demon to kill anyone who threatens a pocket utopia may seem like cheating. It is clear to the reader that the author is aware of the inherent contradiction in using a murder-deer to protect a peaceful community of anarchists. (Though her characters are sufficiently genre-blind1 not to see a problem.) The author is not claiming that the ends justify the means.
This is nice example of the utility of the novella. No doubt the author could have padded this out to 120,000 words — added a few more deaths, perhaps a madcap flight from the deer or a subplot about the Wild Hunt — but 125 pages was just right for the story she wanted to tell. Not every story has to be spun out over ten volumes and fifteen years. Sometimes small is beautiful.
I find myself oddly unenthusiastic about this. I cannot attribute this to any flaw in the work; the writing is skilled, the characters believable and not the usual stock figures, the politics a welcome relief from right-wing reaction (well, at least for me). Perhaps over-exposure to this specific genre is to blame. Readers less disenchanted with urban fantasy or queer readers looking for a protagonist with whom to identify may enjoy this more than I did.
1: For example, complete genre-blindness may be a prerequisite disability for characters in horror movies.