An hypnotic and poetic tale of totalitarian society, hierarchical mechanisms, and how one character's struggle to break from convention can result in both freedom and chaos.
Flora 717, a lowly sanitation worker in the Hive, becomes far from ordinary. Blessed with speech - unlike the rest of her sisters, Sister Sage of the priestess bees brings Flora in to the nursery to feed the Queen's new offspring. However, soon after it transpires that another bee has been laying - a violation of the bees' most sacred law (only the Queen may breed) - Flora has to leave the nursery, but not before a long encounter with the Queen herself. The Queen is kindly and loving, and to be near her is to not feel a care in the world, only the love of her Majesty. She is soon pushed out by the jealousy of the ladies-in-waiting, but it is not long before she finds a new opportunity - to fly and bring back nectar and pollen for the Hive.
Amidst all of this, Flora discovers a secret, something for which she would face The Kindness if it were to be revealed,
One of the many incredible things about this novel is the intricate way the society is built; its complexities, injustices and factions as carefully constructed as an impressive human regime. Within this context the reader is drawn into a web of intrigue, betrayal, compassion for the lowly and fascination of a world hitherto unknown.
There are other issues, too, drawn out as powerfully as they are subtle. Pesticides, for instance (though never named), and the other marks of human interference that threaten the bees' existence,
Flora is the kind of heroine over whom you agonise. Humble, loyal, devoted to her hive, vulnerable to the machinations of others and yet a born leader. Yet she is no open book as Sisters Sage think; there are things she discovers for which she will not compromise and some of the bees claim her audacity can be argued as threatening the well-being of the Hive. Yet, she remains unwavering and continues to demonstrate her love for her sisters and herself in the face of mounting obstacles.
Superbly written; richly imagined, and ethically-minded. This is no environmental manifesto but rather a vivid, mysterious and sometimes chilling reading about one of the most undervalued species on earth, whose importance to the planet is sadly ignored.
Easily one of the best and most enjoyable reads of the year.