The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn fantasy book reviewsThe Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn fantasy book reviewsThe Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn continues the fascinating post-apocalyptic BANNERLESS SAGA in The Wild Dead (2018), the first sequel to her Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel Bannerless. Murders are, thankfully, few and far between along the Coast Road, so it’s been about a year since Enid of Haven has needed to put on her metaphorical deerstalker cap. This time, she and her painfully inexperienced new partner, Teeg, are in the remote southern settlement of Desolata to mediate a dispute over a pre-Fall house: the house’s “owner” refuses to admit that his family’s cherished home is dangerously dilapidated, while it seems that nearly everyone else in Desolata wants to tear it down with their bare hands.

Enid is the right investigator for this job: she’s pragmatic and immediately recognizes the danger posed by the mildewed and rotting house, but she also respects the deep emotional ties between Erik, the home’s caretaker, and what the house symbolizes to him. The conflict at hand is obviously about more than just a physical structure — it’s about sentimentality and nostalgia versus practicality and safety, themes which have become a gentle refrain throughout this series as people remark, over and over again, how badly they want the world to return to its pre-Fall safety and bounty.

However, what should have been an easy-peasy first case for Enid and Teeg is quickly complicated when the mutilated body of a young woman, unaffiliated with Desolata, is discovered in the bordering marsh. Against the wishes of the townsfolk and the protestations of her partner, Enid launches an investigation into the woman’s death, quickly uncovering a viper’s nest of secrets, decades-old grudges, and tension between Desolata and the nearby conclave of wild folk. Torn between her strict ethics and her yearning to hurry home for the birth of her household’s first baby, Enid must decide which is more important to her: her duty to the truth or satisfying her personal desires.

Since Bannerless, Enid’s become a little infamous along the Coast Road — people who tend to be suspicious of investigators are that much more wary of her presence, while others think they can avoid suspicion by currying her favor. And in The Wild Dead, being on the outskirts of the Coast Road in a settlement that is heavily populated by loners and outcasts, accompanied by an immature, impetuous partner who has his own strong opinions about the mysterious young woman’s death, only compounds Enid’s existing feelings of isolation. Her commitment to solving the murder results in Enid taking some serious risks, even putting her life in danger, which is admirable behavior for an investigator, but more than a little stressful for the reader. It’s still too early in the series for there to be any assumptions about Enid’s guaranteed success or invulnerability in any endeavor.

When exploring the dichotomy between Desolata and the wild folk, Vaughn is scrupulous about maintaining the humanity of each group, which I really appreciated. It would have been so easy for her to make callous judgements about people who don’t want to live within the established borders of society, but she never does. In fact, the people who come off as overall less peaceful and cooperative are the inhabitants of Desolata, though there are plenty of kind and compassionate individuals mixed into their numbers.

What sets the BANNERLESS SAGA apart from most other post-apocalyptic novels and series, for me, is Vaughn’s insistence that most of the people Enid comes across are generally good, even though Enid — in her official capacity of investigator — often has the misfortune of seeing them in their worst moments. It’s the way in which Vaughn balances those ideas that makes The Wild Dead compelling, and which makes this series a true pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Published July 17, 2018. Mysteries and murder abound in the sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award–winning Bannerless.  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?


  • Jana Nyman

    JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.