Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror, Eldritch, Paranormal
Categories: F/F, Queer, Ghosts/Spirits, Demons
Content Warnings: (Highlight to read) References to a character’s previous suicide (off-screen).
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Description: Itinerant traveler Danielle Cain arrives at the “ghost town” of Freedom, Iowa, a haven for squatters and anarchists living off the grid. She’s looking for an explanation for why an old friend of hers died after living here; what she finds is a guardian god who was summoned a year ago, and a town split in two between whether or not they should overthrow their oppressors via this summoned god which has begun to turn on them, or whether they should try to get rid of it entirely and live on their own.
Impression: What a read! Killjoy does a fantastic job setting up the anarchist haven of Freedom, and mixing the horrific fantastical with daily life things like co-op food, instagram, and fanfiction. It has an overall feeling of post-apocalyptic solarpunk, although it’s only ‘post-apocalyptic’ if we assume the apocalypse has already happened and the rest of the world hasn’t really realized it yet. The whole thing has a liminal feeling—people who slip through the cracks, an ‘abandoned’ town that is of course occupied, and the spirits that may appear in those spaces, with the right (or wrong) worship.
The novella doesn’t play coy about the supernatural world it is going to drop you in, introducing you to three-antlered blood-red deer gods and hollowed-out undead animals from chapter one; rather, it instead takes its time in exploring what this means, how humans can or cannot understand what these creatures are thinking, and whether or not this can (or should be) exploited. Its real strength is in establishing the uncanny horror that has become commonplace in Freedom (but is still brand new to Danielle) and the tension built through some of these scenes wouldn’t be out of place in a survival horror game (albeit almost certainly an indie one).
It’s also queer as fuck, which I appreciated, with a bi protagonist (slowly developing a relationship with another bi woman from the town), and filled with gay, trans, and generally queer secondary characters. If you’re looking for a queer punk anarchist read about strange gods, you can’t go wrong with this one.
The one flaw was that I had trouble emotionally connecting to Danielle’s relationships with other people. Her own emotions generally were fine—the description of her anxiety/panic attack hit close to home, for example—but when it came to the people around her, liking them or trusting them or fearing them, the things the narrative said she was feeling didn’t tend to read clearly to me in the text itself. This may have been deliberate; there’s one bit early on where she’d bonding with the woman who she’s romantically attracted to where she thinks about how they’re both obviously flirting but something about it feels off, like they’re reading from a script. It feels like this through the rest of the story as well to me as reader. The character self-acknowledges a lot of emotional walls, but even so, a lot of the book revolved around her interactions with people she’d decided to stand with or against, and so the emotional throughline didn’t quite reach me.
Regardless, Killjoy wrote a novella full of things I very much liked, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.