We use Amazon Associate links to help support the site and the work we do.

REVIEW: The Book of Flora – Meg Elison

The Book of Flora - Meg Elison

Genre: Dystopia

LGBTQ+ Category: Bisexual+, Gay, Gender Fluid, Lesbian, Trans

Reviewer: Olivia

Get It On Amazon

About The Book

In this Philip K. Dick Award–winning series, one woman’s unknowable destiny depends on a bold new step in human evolution.

In the wake of the apocalypse, Flora has come of age in a highly gendered post-plague society where females have become a precious, coveted, hunted, and endangered commodity. But Flora does not participate in the economy that trades in bodies. An anathema in a world that prizes procreation above all else, she is an outsider everywhere she goes, including the thriving all-female city of Shy.

Now navigating a blighted landscape, Flora, her friends, and a sullen young slave she adopts as her own child leave their oppressive pasts behind to find their place in the world. They seek refuge aboard a ship where gender is fluid, where the dynamic is uneasy, and where rumors flow of a bold new reproductive strategy.

When the promise of a miraculous hope for humanity’s future tears Flora’s makeshift family asunder, she must choose: protect the safe haven she’s built or risk everything to defy oppression, whatever its provenance.

The Review

World building

In the tradition of ‘A Canticle for Lebowitz’ and ‘The Parable of the Sower’, The Book of Flora explores what the world looks like after it has fallen down, as it’s deciding how to put itself back together in new and haphazard ways.

They killed the Old World, that’s the only thing everyone agrees on. Beyond that, everyone has to figure out lives and societies in their own way. The Old World is broken, all its rules gone. In the absence, new kinds of societies emerge. Some are terrible. Some men create harems of rare women slaves. And some places are beautiful. Some places support all the ways we can be human, rule by common consent, and protect the stories of the past to protect the future.

It’s an amazing re-imagining of the world, but it’s the little details that really amaze the reader. For example, language has slid and shifted; still just recognizable in the way it passes down from our existing world, but reworked into something new. Passing through Demon’s Town with the protagonist, you connect the dots and get hit with the realization that this is Des Moines.  Womanhattan is a city where the women live and thrive. The way words have shifted emphasizes the strangeness of these new days. And the way stories have shifted is just as amazing: in this world, if you look into still water and say ‘Bloody Mary’ at midnight three times, a woman covered with child-bed blood will walk out of the water and give you a child.

And in these new days, all the rules are out the window. I mean all the rules. What was once America has balkanized into hundreds of communities, fiefdoms and small empires. There’s a city where everyone is a woman, whether they were born with a cock or not. There are men born in women’s bodies, openly accepted in some places and reviled in others. There are children born between the genders, and there are places where that’s not a problem. There are tribes of Horsewomen who revere horses and use the chenicals in mare’s urine–horse medicine– to align their bodies with their female souls. There are places where people live underground and God is a woman. There are places with slave markets. There are places where men and women are segregated, kept on a strict breeding program.  What you can do is all about where you are, and there’s a strange kind of hope in that. If you travel far enough across this great, wide continent, you will find a place where you belong.

This is the story of a small found family and their travels across the vast continent: their search for a home and a place to belong, and then the things they did to protect it.

The world is a character in its own right, brutally beautiful. I’m amazed by its power. And the LGBT thread running through this story is a wonder to behold. With poetry and with stark grace, the story reminds us of what’s important: personal autonomy. Choice. Authenticity. And finding the place you can live as your true self.

Characterization

Now that I’ve gone into the character of the story, let’s talk about the characters of the people the story revolves around. There’s Flora, the woman raised as a sex slave who becomes a storyteller and a story-keeper, quiet protectress and weaver of futures. Eddy, a fighting man born with the coveted woman’s body that so many people want to use. The people of their community, all strong and weak in their own ways, all hurt by their world and all finding their own ways to heal.

All these characters are amazing, and in their interactions allow us to look at a lot of issues that people in the LGBT community don’t have room to discuss in daily life. Some of these conversations are painful, and many can make us uncomfortable. But they are powerful, and vital to our conversations of how to come into our authentic selves.

This book’s narrator is Flora, and her kind, gentle and patient narration makes even painful topics possible to discuss. With acceptance and quiet, Flora opens her heart, her gently honest philosophies, and her world to us all.  ‘I cannot say that I was born wrong, or raised wrong. Only that I was born, and I was made.’ These quiet words of Flora’s are gentle in a hard-edged world, showing us how to move like silk and tea in a world full of knives and clubs.

Writing Style

In lyrical poetry and powerful dialogue, in painfully beautiful descriptions and dreamy passages of scene, this story wraps us in a tale that feels as old as the world, and is yet the tale we need most for these times. As a side note, I listened to the audiobook, and it is gorgeously narrated, soft and sweet and a pleasure in my ears.

Plot

A story of adventure and finding, personal choice and losing, this story moves like a folktale.

I have rarely read such a lyrical, moving and empowering book. Here. I hand it to you. Read the words, and may they give you strength.

The Reviewer

Olivia Wylie is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Trained in horticulture, she writes ethnobotany and horticulture under her own name and queer climate change fiction with a hopeful twist under the pen name of O.E. Tearmann. She lives in Colorado with a very patient partner and a rather impatient cat.  

Leave a Comment