Bannerless (The Coast Road #1)
By Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.
Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?
In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.
The dystopian theme is one of my absolute favorites. You simply mention it and you have my undivided attention. How it is that Bannerless escaped my clutches is beyond me. I only recently learned of this series when I received an advanced copy of the upcoming sequel. So while I was excited at the prospect of a new dystopian saga, I had little expectations as I jumped in nearly blind.
Due to epidemics and economic collapse, the United States is now an almost barren land with small surviving settlements that have regressed in many ways. However, the Coast Road offers hope to many in the forms of a possible future and rebuilt civilization. In efforts to thrive and avoid outgrowing the land, this remaining culture has implemented a regulated form of population control where each homestead must earn the right to expand their families and bear children. That right is signified with awarded banners. For everyone else, birth control is not optional. When Coast Road citizen, Enid, an investigator from Haven is summoned to another settlement in regards to a mysterious death, she uncovers a possible murder that just might not only upend the whole town but the world as she understands it.
“On the wall above the kitchen door hung a piece of woven cloth, a foot square on each side, a red-and-green-checked pattern for blood and life: their banner, which the four of them had earned.”
What I appreciated..
- Beautifully executed world construction that immerses the reader in life along the Coast Road.
- A unique twist on a classic concept. This is a dystopian story enshrouding a murder mystery with a true element of whodunnit.
- Enid is a patient and well-defined character who’s portrayal offers readers a rewarding glimpse into the beginning of a new civilization and era.
- The author offers viable aspects to man’s approach to rebuild, reclaim and even preserve some of what was.
- An alternating timeline of our protagonist’s childhood and the present adds a nice layer of depth to her character.
“The worst storms were the ones that changed you. The ones you remembered not for how bad they objectively were, but for how much damage they did to your own world. Banners, planted in memory.”
Challenges some may encounter..
- At times, the slow and steady pacing can feel almost sobering or emotionless.
- Secondary characters remain almost undemonstrative and disconnected in comparison to Edin.
- This is not a complex story with high revelations.
What Bannerless lacks in complexity it easily makes up for in a well-executed story, solid writing and the promise of something grand to come. It offers a dose of optimism in the midst of a desperate time which is often rare in this genre. I appreciated Vaughn’s decision to introduce a civilization that was making honest attempt to regain a worthwhile and constructive life. I am excited to see what direction she will take with this series and look forward to The Wild Dead.
Pairs well with a nice mint and ginger tea.
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