BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie VaughnTitle: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Bannerless Saga #1
Published by Mariner Books
Published: July 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic dystopian with a bit of detective fiction? You’ll get Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. I really enjoy traditional, structural genre stories mixed with a fantastic setting, and this one didn’t disappoint. Bannerless takes place about a hundred years after a series of events destroy society. It’s a little like taking a peek into our future if we aren’t careful about our relationships with other countries and if we aren’t careful with our planet. Instead of being another post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Vaughn uses this vision of the future as a twist in her traditional mystery and that twist adds a dimension to the story that I found really enjoyable.

In this futuristic world, the population has dwindled, birth control is mandatory, and people live in tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone else’s business. People group together in family units called houses, and they work together to provide enough materials for themselves and for their families, and once their quotas are met or consistently exceeded, these families can apply to get a banner which allows that household to have a baby.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, a role that combines the roles of police, detective, and judge. Crime doesn’t really exist in this future world, and most of it ends up being bannerless pregnancies or unauthorized food and material production to try to game the system. She is called up with her partner to investigate a suspicious death of a bannerless person in a neighboring community, and she is forced to confront someone with her past as she and her partner Tomas figure out the mystery. I also really enjoyed Enid’s self-discovery as she investigates the suspicious death. She goes from being a little insecure of herself as an individual to growing more and more confident in herself, and to me, that’s entirely relatable. Told in alternating chapters of Enid’s past and present, Bannerless explores a future in which our very society is regulated on the local level and how our actions, even with good intentions, can be devastating for entire families.

If you enjoy traditional mysteries, dystopian futures as imagined in books like Station Eleven, and speculative fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one! It’s short, yet well-crafted and well-paced. And I’ve just read she’s working on another post-apocalyptic murder mystery, so I’m hoping that the next one will continue following Enid’s investigations!

This book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and Mariner Books. All opinions are my own.

Post-Modern Victoriana; Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White

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Post-Modern Victoriana; Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the WhiteTitle: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Published by Mariner Books
Published: September 1st 2003
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 901
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
AmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

Agnes lowers the latest issue of The Illustrated London News to her lap, offended and upset. An article has just informed her that the average English woman has 21,917 days to live. Why, oh why must newspapers always be so disagreeable? Have they nothing better to do? The world is going to the dogs.

Michel Faber’s vast expanse of a novel delves into the life of a nineteen year old prostitute named Sugar. And by vast expanse of a novel, I mean it’s a doorstop. I sometimes felt awkward bringing it with me wherever I went because it’s so large. But it’s one of those novels that doesn’t feel large and impossible at all. It’s so engaging and lush that you very nearly believe you’re right there in 19th century London.

I read The Crimson Petal and the White many, many years ago, before I decided to go for my degree in English and before I really knew anything about post-modernism and Victorian literature. When I read it for the first time, I read it for the historical fiction aspect of the novel. Historical fiction, especially fiction set in England, is one of my favorite things to read, so naturally, a huge one that’s vaguely scandalizing was something meant for me.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of post-modernism, a very concise way to describe it is that there are many truths to one story, that there are different perceptions and ways to know something, and that life is infinitely more complex than our puny human minds could ever fully comprehend. The University of Pennsylvania (found in a link from Wikipedia), in a course description, suggests that

Postmodernism articulates a world that is culturally one of multiplicity, diversity, contingency, fragmentation and rupture and accepts that we now live in a state of perpetual incompleteness and permanent unresolve.  Postmodernism promotes the notion of radical pluralism, many ways of knowing, and many truths. From a postmodern perspective knowledge is articulated from local perspectives, with all its uncertainties, complexity and paradox. This viewpoint suggests that knowledge is relational and that all reality is woven and rewoven on shared linguistic looms.

It’s one of those -isms that can never fully be explained because of the definition itself, but that’s one I particularly enjoy for a semblance of clarity.

Anyway, not to digress too much, Faber touches on this post-modern viewpoint in the terminology of itself and in the fact that one cannot return to Victorian England, so that viewpoint of that time is through the lenses of our own time. We, as readers, cannot help but interject our own views and perceptions of the world upon this as the author imposes his view of the time on us in tandem. The narrator plays with the reader on several occasions, dropping little bits about the state of women in that time and about authorship itself. Both Sugar and William aspire to be authors, but for William it’s an occupation, but for Sugar the prostitute it’s a means to pass the time with hopeful abandon; and Agnes writes vivid accounts in her diaries, which give major insight into her madness, only to discard them in a frantic act. Other characters speak about authorship, being an author, or even comparing their roles in life to roles in a novel throughout the course of the book.

A conversation between a poor man and Henry, William Rackham’s older brother, offers a quip that’s pretty clearly a dig at famous authors like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins:

“You ain’t a norfer, are ye?” he asks.
Henry repeats the strange word to himself silently, straining to divine its meaning.
“I beg your pardon?” he’s obliged to ask.
“Orfer,” repeats the man. “A fellow as writes books about poor men that poor men can’t read.”

Sugar, especially, having spent much of her time reading, compares her new role of governess to roles of governesses she’s explored in the novels she has read (which is a spoiler, my apologies):

Sugar steps back, confused: if she’s so superior in rank to the household servants, where does she get her deep-seated notion that governesses are lowly and despised? From novels, she supposes – but aren’t novels truth dressed up in fancy clothes?

The Crimson Petal and the White offers so much to a variety of readers, and that’s what I’ve enjoyed about it the second time around. My biggest frustration about it is the ending. It’s a bit abrupt, there isn’t much explanation as to why what’s done is done, and in some ways it reads to me as if Faber had to end somewhere otherwise it would continue on and on for ages. He’s apparently published a collection of stories set before and after the novel called The Apple that others have said read like “deleted scenes,” so I think I’ll have to find that in the library for further reading. I’m most desperate to know what happens to Sophie, William and Agnes’ daughter.

There is so much detail to delight in as you read this novel. Faber is a master at weaving those old world ideas and sensibilities with our modern perceptions in this, and you hardly know where one ends and one begins. It’s incredibly enjoyable, and I’m glad it’s my first read of 2016.

And, at the very end (more spoilers, but you’ve already made it this far), we as readers are offered the suggestion that someone we know, perhaps Sugar herself, wrote the novel, giving more rise to the post-modern ideas of authorship:

And to you also: goodbye.

An abrupt parting, I know, but that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?