“Do you remember Auntie Kath?”
“Of course I do.”
“She talked about how they didn’t know what they needed to save. They couldn’t save it all, so they had to choose. How later she wished there were things people in the early days of Haven had saved.”
“Like cameras. Or latex gloves.” Enid not only remembered — she could almost hear the old woman’s low, rough voice going on about it.
“Plastic wrap,” Tomas added, and they both chuckled.
Often, in fact, I found myself noticing the cadence in Vaughn’s voice more than anything else. One of my favorite examples of this comes early in the narrative:
“Enid perched in the back among the tools they’d brought: ropes, hooks, crowbars, shovels, a first aid kit. Things for digging, breaking, rescuing, and she wondered what they expected to find.”
Here, you begin to see how Vaughn’s voice has a distinct rhythm to it – not unlike that of a practiced storyteller ensuring their audience is engaged. Were the narrative too dense, this cadence would be compromised or lost completely, buried under the weight of the narrative. Particularly for this post-apocalyptic setting, the feeling of an oral tradition is most welcome here.
As a main character, Enid is wonderful. Her curiosity is catching, and her viewpoint (as the narrative primarily follows her experience) is insightful without being overbearing.
“What did this?” she asked, awestruck.
“Tornado,” Tomas answered simply. While Enid might have known the definition of a tornado, understood the concept of one — a great funnel of wind bridging earth and sky, generated by colliding storm fronts — she had no idea what that meant in reality. What had all this looked like while it was happening? What had the howl of wind sounded like?
The other characters in the narrative run the gamut from idyllicaly charming, to worldly and experienced, to absolutely maddening. To Vaughn’s credit, even the absolute extremes of her characters never distract from the flow of her story – serving only to enhance and enliven the world of Haven.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most well-developed, fleshed-out, and living post-apocalyptic settings I’ve ever come across. The rules Vaughn’s society sets up are internally consistent and realistic given their context. More importantly, the pain of living in the world of Bannerless isn’t impossibly dire (like some post-apocalypses), nor is it sacrificial of humanity in favor of society. The things missing from the world “before” constitute a sweet note of wistfulness that carries throughout the narrative, more than anything, and I am grateful to Vaughn for believing in humanity’s strength enough to allow its fundamental natures (the beauty as well as the dark, the brains as well as the brawn, the poetry as well as the engineering) to survive her apocalypse hand-in-hand.
I will admit to one bone to pick with this book. Somehow, three entirely contradictory formats for establishing where in the timeline a chapter takes place are used throughout the book. It may be a small complaint, but I couldn’t look past it.