Flora 717 is a worker bee. She belongs to the sanitation caste in the hive, the lowest of a strict order of castes each with an ascending level of work to do to ensure that the hive survives. This thrilling dystopian novel anthropomorphizes bees in a look at what it means to live within a closed society with an extremely rigid social structure and, especially, what it means to divert from that structure.
The sanitation “kin” to which 717 belongs does not have the gift of speech. 717, however, can not only talk, but think independently. Add to that the fact that she is larger and stronger than most bees in her hive, and she becomes an instant stand-out.
Initially, she is revered by the highest caste for her bravery and is even given entry into the queen’s chamber to meet their beloved leader. Because of her speech and intelligence she is moved to higher castes, eventually becoming a forager, which gives her the freedom to leave the hive to search for nectar.
In time, however, her independence and bravery become a concern and the elders begin to do what they can to knock her back down the chain of command. Add to this their keen perception that she has a secret — maybe one big enough to ruin the social structure and even threaten the queen.
Perhaps the most interesting question left with the reader is whether and how rigid caste systems have any merit. Book clubs should read and decide.
Ecco/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0- 06233-115-1 $25.99.