Review of Bannerless - beautiful prose and a world all its own
I usually want to wait a day or two after reading something to meditate on it and let it settle. I was so at home in Bannerless, though, that this seems unnecessary.
Maybe the reason I love this book so much is that Vaughn manages to do what I’m trying to do in my own writing. This book is clearly genre-fiction, even if it lives in a newish genre (post-apocalyptic fic) and is a genre-bender (it definitively blends in murder mystery, edging up against cozy because there are no forensics and only the mildest of violence). While inhabiting these genres, though, the world is really a main character as much as the people in it; here is plot taking a backseat to story, and worldbuilding as much more than just setting.
And the novel rises above all of that into the sphere of literary writing. In some ways, it’s a coming-of-age story. The main struggles appear external – solve the mystery – but are really internal to the protagonist (a strong but relatably human woman).
All this is bound up together with a ribbon of wistfulness. A sadness over what has passed on, on the loss of an age. This wistful air is not present in all the zombie and cannibal movies set after the end of this age; those tales are rageful and cynical. This is something else, something past nostalgia, a yearning that people get over their selves to become good.
The story is nothing at all to do with Lord of the Rings. But how I feel reading it is how I feel reading about Arwyn electing to stay in the world as a mortal woman because love is worth it. It’s how I feel reading about the mirthful Tom Bombadil receding from the world because his age has ended. It’s a sadness contained in the prose so much more than in the events of the story; elegant writing that conveys a feeling without ever mentioning it. While the writing seems so clear and concise and unobtrusive, nevertheless this is poetry.
Of all the new books I’ve read this year, this one is my favorite, and likely to enter my annual reading rotation.
Here's an audio version: