I first fell in love with Carrie Vaughn’s work with the Kitty Norville series – a werewolf named Kitty who ran a late-night radio show. Kitty and the Midnight Hour. (Both the name of her show and the first book.) So when I discovered she’d starting writing a dystopia that revolved heavily around reproductive rights, I was SO ON BOARD. Bannerless and The Wild Dead are the first two books of the Bannerless saga. And they’re GREAT. They’re technically murder mysteries set in a dystopian society; Enid, our main character, is an investigator, the closest thing this society has to police.
The dystopia part of the society involves epidemics and natural disasters nearly eradicating humanity; with so few people left and less of the earth habitable, they’ve regressed to a mostly agrarian society. Farmers, weavers, hunters. To keep the population from exploding past the land’s ability to feed it, birth rates are strictly controlled. As civilization was falling, people realized birth rates were going to be massively important, and the birth control implant, and the technology to make it, was one thing they managed to save. They also have solar-powered cars, lights, and flashlights, though they’re uncommon enough to be notable.
I find it a little improbable that they still have the tech to make the implants; they say that before the supplies from “before the Fall” ran out, the medics figured out how to make the hormone from “what they had on hand” – but – I feel like a more interesting plot point would be that they’re running out of implants, and how the society would have to deal with that changing. But that is not the case, at least not in the first two books.
Regardless of how improbable the birth control issue is, the rest of the plot is pretty good. There’s a good mix of salvaged goods and subsistence farming; of new houses built in low-tech ways and the occasional ruins from Before the Fall. They have some books and records of what it was like, and Enid often wishes she had the tools that forensic investigators had, Before. Fingerprints, and DNA, though she doesn’t call it DNA. They don’t have cameras, she has to sketch crime scenes and take notes.
I really enjoyed both books; Carrie Vaughn’s writing style is wonderful to read. The first book rambles a little bit, but while some of it doesn’t seem necessary for the first book, it’s important for the second. I’ll definitely be following this series.
From the cover of Bannerless:
Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroyed much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving, but thriving – built on a culture of population control where people are organized into households that must earn the right to bear and raise children by proving they can care for them. Those who are deemed worthy proudly display the symbolic banners that demonstrate this privilege, while those who are not are outcast, living alone and branded as “bannerless.”
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. But now she’s summoned to investigate the suspicious death of a man rumored to be bannerless. Was it murder or an accident? Was he truly bannerless or simply a loner? As Enid races to answer these questions while confronting unhelpful townsfolk and her own past, the secrets she reveals could expose the cracks in the entire foundation of the Coast Road society.
From the cover of The Wild Dead:
A century after environmental and economic collapse, the people of the Coast Road have rebuilt their own sort of civilization, striving not to make the mistakes their ancestors did. They strictly ration and manage resources, including the ability to have children. Enid of Haven is an investigator who, with her new partner, Teeg, is called on to mediate a dispute over an old building in a far-flung settlement at the edge of Coast Road territory.
The investigators’ decision seems straightforward – and then the body of a young woman turns up in the nearby marshland. Almost more shocking than that, she’s not from the Coast Road, but from one of the outsider camps belonging to the nomads and wild folk who live outside the Coast Road communities. Now one of them is dead, and Enid wants to find out who killed her, even as Teeg argues that the murder isn’t their problem. In a dystopian future of isolated communities, can our moral sense survive the worst hard times?