My third SPFBO review, which I actually read a couple of weeks ago but was waylaid by stupid exams and the like. I’d never heard of author Jean Gill before, despite her having written many books, and Queen of the Warrior Bees was a 2020 Kindle Book Awards finalist. Which I’ve also never heard of. This, of course, is more a reflection on me than the book or author, so on that note, let’s set forth.
This has a really interesting premise. Humankind, out of fear of allergies and other risks of nature, has shut itself up in a sterile city created by magic, known as The Citadel. Everything is controlled to the max, few are allowed outside and the city is run by a number of magicians. Think a Puritan 1984 meets The Book of Koli and you kind of get the idea. Mielitta is our erstwhile hero, a foundling who never feels like she belongs in the Citadel. When she sneaks out into the forbidden forest one evening, she is attacked by a swarm of bees and in true comic book style, she starts to develop bee-like powers. Said bees adopt her as their queen, teaching her that nature is not the terrible force the mages of the Citadel say it is.
There’s a lot going on here, with many themes at play. The main one is the divide between humanity and nature and the huge lengths the mages go through (nature vs nurture?), but there is also an attempt at establishing a patriarchy, although from reading the entire book it sounds like it's already well-established. In addition, we have a Fifth Column that wants to return the people of the Citadel to nature, but it's somewhat glossed over. As it’s a young adult book (I believe), there are some melodramatic relationships too. One of the interesting dichotomies is the comparison between the life of bees and the society in which Mielitta grows up. The book is very well written - you can tell Jean Gill is a well-established author - and the story flows smoothly. If I had one gripe it’s the formerly mentioned melodrama. I know it’s par for the course for YA, but it does irk me a little when reading it. That aside, it’s an interesting tale and well worth a read.