Favorite Fictional Characters, #52: Flora-717
Be warned: The Bees by Laline Paull is a weird book, an odd, foreign feminine manifesto. It follows the experiences of Flora-717, a female sanitation worker in a hive of bees. By all rights she should live out her days cleaning up after the drones and soldiers under the benign hegemony of the queen. But Flora is a mutant with a strange set of abilities that cast her into a very different destiny. In some ways, The Bees is a typical story of a young female heroine with unique skills who breaks free of the traditional constraints holding her back. It's The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc., except with a bee instead of a blonde.
But there are differences here that set this tale apart. For one, Paull knows her stuff when it comes to bees. This is a well-researched work that weaves scientific jargon effectively into the narrative. And Flora is a sympathetic character, confused by the strangeness that surrounds her, unable until late in the tale to reconcile her loyalties and instincts with the seduction of power and motherhood. It's a compelling, unusual read quite unlike any other book I've read. I'm not sure if I enjoyed it, or if in fact I even understood it. There are political themes of feminism and class strife that simmer under the surface, never consuming the story but trailing along in its wake. Some of the prose is breathlessly rapturous, extolling the beauties of nature, and some of it is cuttingly terse, vicious, like nature itself. Paull is a talent, and gives Flora depth and - odd, for a bee - humanity.