Book Review: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga Book 2, Carrie Vaughn
Mystery: The Wild Dead, Bannerless Saga, Book 2, Carrie Vaughn
Like the first book in this series (Bannerless), The Wild Dead is a mystery set in a dystopian future. The people of the Coast Road live by strict rules. Households must live within their means but also contribute to the good of their communities. Quotas cannot be exceeded so that the land is not overworked, but enough must be grown or gathered to share with others. When a household proves they can live within the parameters set and support another person they are given a banner. A banner signifies permission to become pregnant and have a baby. Households that do not have a banner are not allowed to have children, and there is no stigma greater in the Coast Road than trying to have a bannerless child.
Enid, the investigator we first met in Bannerless, has been sent to the estuary to mediate a property dispute. A house dating from before “the Fall” is unlikely to survive another storm without significant repairs, and the owner wants his neighbors to help restore the property. Enid and her new partner Teeg have come to check out the property and determine whether the owner’s adamance is warranted. While they are there, though, a body is discovered on the tidal flats. A young woman has been murdered…and soon they realize that the woman is not from the Coast Road at all but rather is from the “wild” people who are not part of their society.
These facts do not tell the investigators who killed the woman, but they raise their own set of questions. Do the investigators have an actual responsibility to investigate the murder of someone who is not part of their community? Is the murder of an outsider actually even a crime? How far is Enid willing to go to solve this murder…especially when everyone, including Teeg, thinks she should just walk away and leave it be?
Carrie Vaughn has worked hard building the world of the Coast Road, a world that has been shaped dramatically by the collapse of the world we readers know. The Coast Road enjoys some of the remnants of civilization: electricity is sustainably generated, food is grown in moderation, trade occurs up and down the Coast Road. But the cost is high: women receive implants preventing pregnancy upon their first menstruation and those implants can only be removed when a banner is awarded. The Coast Road society is fully sustainable, but far from free. Bannerless children are forcibly removed from their families and given to families who have banners but have not been able to conceive. And the stigma for even trying to conceive a bannerless child continues for a lifetime.
The “wild” people live with much more freedom, but they also live on the edge of starvation. No one says who or when they can have children, but they struggle to meet basic needs for those children. The Coast Road chooses security over freedom. The wild people choose freedom over security. When the two societies intersect, both are challenged to evaluate their choices.
As a reader who enjoys both science fiction and mysteries, this novel is a delightful cross-genre story. Enid is a dogged investigator who is committed to finding the truth. She is willing to do the difficult work of pursuing the truth outside of her comfort zone, even outside of her society, seeking justice for the dead woman even though she is from another culture. Carrie Vaughn has created a fascinating world in her Bannerless Saga, and The Wild Dead is an outstanding continuation of that saga. I hope there are more to come.