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.
I haven’t read the first two books of The Road to Nowhere series, but I think it’s perfectly fine to read this one on its own. In fact, though there is a carry over of characters and story from the first two books, I think it works really well as a stand alone.
I went into this book with no expectations and was immediately struck by the prose. It’s not flowery at all and is, in fact, easy to read, but there’s a certain cadence to it that I love. It’s the kind of prose that enhances and elevates a story, rather than get in its way. I don’t often find myself waxing on on about prose, but I really dig Meg Elison’s style of writing here. The structure of the book is interesting as well–we spend time alternating between various timelines of the past along with the present as Flora writes down her story to be preserved, telling of what came years before. Because it’s essentially a journal, it’s very slice of life in a lot of ways. Most of the conflict is characters traveling from point A to point B, just trying to find somewhere they can call home. There is major conflict, set up from the beginning as Flora from the present talks about an army coming their way, and as the story progresses the army does as well.
One of the things I loved about The Book of Flora is that it’s feminist to its core. The world has suffered a devastating plague and babies are harder to come by, so what it means to be able to have a child, to be able to carry on the survival of the human race, is super important to some people. What it means to be a woman is questioned over and over. If you weren’t born with female parts, does that mean you’re not a woman? Flora, a trans-woman, knows she’s a woman, even if others can’t accept it. In a way, Flora’s journey is about trying to find a place she can be accepted, a home she can belong to and not have to worry about being hurt for simply being herself.
This book is also very much about Flora’s relationships with the other characters in the book, and how they accept one another, or not. Flora’s relationship with Eddy/Etta is very complex. I probably would have benefited from having read the previous book here, to get the background on their relationship, but even having not read it, it’s fine. We’re getting things from Flora’s POV here, we know something went bad in their relationship and that she’s been seeking to repair it ever since. We get the information we need in order to piece together the puzzle. We know that things are complex between them, and with their fellow friend and survivor, Alice. Even though they’re together, they seem to flit in and out of each other’s lives, connecting and coming apart again like three little magnets. Throughout the story they encounter a lot of other characters as well. New communities, and people who survive on their own. There’s a lot of lessons Flora takes from all of these encounters. There’s also her child, Connie. Mentioned sparsely at first, as if it takes too much out of her to even bring them up, it builds the reader’s curiosity about Connie and what role they play in the narrative. What happened between Flora and Connie to devastate her so? The way this information is imparted to us as readers throughout the book helps build the tension right up to the climax of the story.
If I have a tiny criticism of this book, it’s that the climax felt a little underwhelming after the build up. Also, the ‘villain’….I didn’t find their motivation all that credible? It felt kind of random and I wish this final conflict had been set up a little better earlier on. There were hints, but I don’t think they were strong enough to make the end plausible. That being said, I’m being super nit picky because this was an amazing novel and really, the conflict at the end wasn’t the point anyway. The point is, to quote Jurassic Park, ‘life, uh, finds a way’.
Overall, I really loved The Book of Flora. It can be a hard book to read sometimes because Flora hasn’t lived an easy life. And when she writes about her childhood, full of abuse, it’s so very matter of fact that it feels like a kick to the gut. But this horrific world is what she knows. Over the course of the story I really came to feel for her and want her to be happy, for things to work out. There’s something about Flora’s story that just draws you in, compelling you to keep reading her words. 4.5/5 stars.