Sunday, July 29, 2018

Book Review: The Wild Dead (The Bannerless Saga Book 2) by Carrie Vaughn

A Future When Old-Fashioned Detective Work Returns

The Wild Dead is the sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award–winning novel by Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless.

If you miss murder investigations where the solution comes from old-fashion questioning and playing hunches rather than hi-tech, The Wild Dead is for you.  Enid, the heroine of the series, catches her killers with legwork – literally.  That’s because author Vaughn has set these mysteries in a future dystopia, where high-tech forensics is gone and investigators walk to the scene of the crime…or catch the occasional solar car.  More on this unusual mix of high and no-tech later.

Character development is a strength of the book.  Enid, for example, wasn’t a protagonist I immediately liked.  Initially, she is indecisive, torn between what she feels to be right and a host of issues – questions of jurisdiction, complaints from her partner, desire to be home.  But she persists, eventually succeeding through a combination of grit and intelligence.  The secondary characters are similarly brought to life under Vaughn’s pen.  Kudos to the author.   World-building is also a strength.  You can almost see, feel, and even smell the mud and debris of our decaying world, while lives built around agriculture, scavenging, hunting, and trading feel real.

Plot and pace, however, are weaker features of the work.  With few investigative tools other than questioning, clues come slowly.  But unfortunately, the book makes the reader work for them too, with a style that is plodding at times.  This problem is magnified by the repetition of thoughts, themes, and dialog.  For example, Enid constantly evaluates each person’s home, because part of her job is detecting the waste of resources.  But as this duty has little to do with the murder and so, doesn’t advance the plot, these sections end up feeling like filler.  Vaughn also made some ‘convenient’ decisions about which parts of technology to bring forward to her dystopia and which to leave in the past.  Medicine, for example, was saved by a decision of the survivors of ‘the Fall’, but forensics was not, despite the significant overlap between these fields.  Solar energy was another technology kept, explaining the solar cars and house lighting.  But the infrastructure to maintain medicine and solar power is no where to be seen.  It ends up being a strange and somewhat inexplicable mix of our high-tech past and an austere future.

Overall, Vaughn’s vibrant characters and her vivid accounts of a future, decaying world are winners, weakened only slightly by pace and decisions about technology that are convenient for the plot, but not easily explained.

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