I love this book so much that I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk about it without breaking down into the incoherent fangirl I am in my heart of hearts. I’m going to try though because this was one of the most unique books I’ve read in years. One to put on my shelf of favorites, push into the hands of friends (or strangers), and revisit for yearly rereads. But don’t take my word for it, take Margaret Atwood’s, who called it a “gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.”
Flora 717 is a lowest-of-the-low sanitation bee. Bigger, blacker, and uglier than her fellow bee sisters, she stands out. Her curiosity and strength lead her to many places within the hive and into contact with all types of bees. Paull imagines the hive as a religious colony of sister bees who worship their mother like a god. The queen’s love instills each bee with a sense of purpose and duty to the hive. In a community whose motto is “accept, obey, and serve,” Flora is sometimes valued as strong leader and other times reviled as a dangerous individualist. Her journeys in and out of the hive place her in many dangerous situations. Some of the dangers like wasps, spiders, birds and pesticides are from outside the hive, but other dangers like sickness and blind groupthink lurk within its walls.
There are passages of prose so jaw-droppingly beautiful that no amount of gushing from me can do them justice. “The plant’s citrus sweetness immediately brightened her senses and the fatigue of her journey fell away. There was not one other bee in the glass room, and Flora’s panniers opened in readiness for the haul of pollen and nectar she would surely be able to take back to the hive from this marvelous place. She climbed up and positioned herself over one of the creamy white florets, and the contact of her feet on the flower’s virginal petal made them both tremble. Flora held it softly, then sank her tongue into its depths. The exquisite taste sparkled through her mind and body like sun on water, and she drank until each floret was empty.” There are many, many places in the book where Paull’s talent with words made me almost weak in the knees.
So basically what I’m saying is give this book a try if it sounds even a little interesting. It’s a genre bender, blending elements from fantasy, science fiction, and dystopia into a unique piece of literary fiction. Definitely worth checking out.