I was very surprised and pleased to win The God of the Hive as a First Reads book from Goodreads, and took it as just cause to rush back and get caught up on the previous Mary Russell book, The Language of Bees. Fair warning to any Mary Russell fans who may be behind on the series: for the love of all that’s holy, do not start this book until you’ve read the previous one. This is part 2 of the story begun in The Language of Bees, and you really need to read them back to back if at all possible to appreciate the full scope of the story.
There’s little I can say here without divulging spoilers, but I can say that I was quite surprised by the hard right turn the overall plot took in this half of the story. Things which were set up in The Language of Bees turn out to be much less of the point than I’d previously expected. For the most part this worked for me, although the overall villian struck me as a trifle weak once that revelation was finally given to the reader. I was equally struck by how a character who didn’t show up at all in the previous book became a significant driving force for the action–a little bit too much so at times, given how late he comes into the story. This character does however provide some thematic ties back into bees and beehives, which was at least a bit of nice callback to the previous book.
And meanwhile, there’s a great deal to love here. It was a refreshing switch to see a whole lot of plot emphasis on Mycroft Holmes, especially in the context of the overall theme of how England in general and the intelligence community in particular is advancing in the twentieth century. And the character of Estelle, Damian Adler’s little daughter, is particularly charming; she’s very much believable as a canny little granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes.
I’ve seen other reviewers comment that in the course of the series, Laurie King’s grown as a writer; I’ll definitely go along with that. I’ve quite enjoyed the expansion of the viewpoint from Mary herself out to other characters, which lent The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive both a respectable gravitas that the earlier books in the series don’t yet achieve. Overall, four stars.