The World Without Flags (2020) – Ben Lyle Bedard

Title:The World Without Flags
Author:Ben Lyle Bedard
Publication date:June 1st 2020
Publisher:Independently Published
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:The author Ben Bedard kindly sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review

In a post-apocalyptic America the human race is learning to live off the land after a terrible virus know as Vaca B or most commonly referred to as ‘the Worm’, ravaged through entire populations. After the virus was seemingly eradicated those still living are concerned only with survival, and reminiscing about the days before the Worm.

Kestrel, whose real name is Birdie, and whose parents were both killed by the Worm lives in a small community known as the Homestead with her sort-of adoptive father Eric who is the leader of the community. Many years ago Eric and his wife Lucia rescued Birdie, and after Lucia’s death have remained close ever since. Birdie is 18 years old (or 17 or 19 – she isn’t quite sure), loves to draw and has a best friend named Artemis. She’s always struggled to make friends and is also a black girl living among a community of mostly white people. She is also fond of visiting the older Franky, whose love for the past is evident in his obsession with collecting all sorts of trinkets and filling his home with them. Other community members of note include a gang of young boys who like to terrorize Birdie, among them Pest who has always seemed a little bit odd and not quite like the other boys.

One day a friend of the Homestead comes to visit in the form of Randal the Vandal, or just Randy. Randy has been traveling around the country ever since the Worm happened and though usually bringing smiles and gifts from yonder, Randy brings the bad news that there is a war going on outside, and that they will all have to choose between the two factions: The Stars or The Gearheads. Both groups have elected themselves a president and hope to create a new America and in so doing will fly their own flags in what they hope to be a new world. This makes Birdie’s home very nervous, and a little divided between those who are willing to succumb to choosing a new order and those that wish to remain free. They all turn to Eric for guidance but Eric is reluctant to make any decisions causing others to start questioning his leadership abilities. Randy leaves after the warning, and the community continue to pressure Eric leaving Birdie in the role of mediator.

“You’re in the world…You do have to choose. There’s no middle ground”

Not long after Randy’s departure the Worm suddenly returns and those infected experience far more violent and devastating symptoms than ever before. Birdie’s community are suddenly faced with the very real fear of being infected by the very people they have learned to love and call family. Those with the Worm are now forced into quarantine as the rest of the community wait for the dreaded ‘turn’ – when those infected become violent and crazed. A new ‘normal’ commences as over several hellish weeks the community are forced to shoot those that are exhibiting the worst symptoms and are then led to a funeral pyre where they are burnt. With everything that is going on the impending war is soon forgotten as the community take turns caring for their sick, and it is then that Birdie discovers Eric, the person she cares for most in the world, has the Worm.

With the fear of being discovered and the knowledge that the community will end up shooting Eric she packs up the little they have and goes on the run with an Eric who is no longer the same person. He won’t eat or sleep, is unable to communicate with anything more than a few moans and grumbles, and is incredibly slow. His eyeballs begin to bleed, and worms ooze from his mouth, and yet Birdie will not give up on him. Her plan is to go in search of a friend of Eric’s, the elusive Good Prince Billy, whom Eric once claimed to have told him that people can and had survived the Worm all those years ago.

The rest of the novel follows Birdie and Eric as they struggle across desolated landscapes to get away from the Homestead in search of the Good Prince and hopefully a cure. Their journey brings them into contact with a number of people who have ulterior motives including two men on horseback who call themselves Boston and Sydney, and the evil Dr. Bragg who is infecting people with the Worm in order to one day find a cure. Through it all Birdie’s love for Eric never falters, even with the ongoing fear that she may contract the virus herself and no longer be able to take care of the only family she’s known since her own parents died from this same virus.

In Bedard’s novel of survival in a world without boundaries, though the Worm is devastating, the real monsters appear to be the living who have forgotten what it is like to be alive. The World Without Flags is well-written, exciting and filled with a warmth for its characters as well as being very in-tune with the notion of the human condition, and the lengths the human spirit will go to survive. This is a post-apocalyptic novel that will have you holding your breath from the first page, and rooting for Birdie right until the end.

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