Karisma Indra reviews The Hive Construct, the first novel written by the University of Kent masters student Alexander Maskill.

As a prolific reader I am no stranger to reading all kinds of books, many of which have won prestigious awards. What makes The Hive Construct so special, however, is that this is the first book by author Alexander Maskill, written whilst also studying for an undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester. Since its publication, Maskill’s novel has been awarded the biennial Terry Pratchett First Novel Award, with Pratchett himself commenting that Maskill is, “a talented young writer who not only knows how to tell an exciting story, but a richly rewarding story full of ideas…”

This sci-fi novel has a definite dystopian feel, set in a vast metropolis which is dominated by a small number of omnipotent corporations. The world is (like many novels in recent years) based around a divided city similar to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy.

Admittedly, I found The Hive Construct to be a trying read, however, there is no denying the skill involved in Maskill’s writing. The book is set in New Cairo, in a future not too far away from our own, following the story of a city built on astounding technology. There is no doubt that Maskill creates a world that is both scary and alluring to the modern audience. Many will find themselves intrigued by the idea of technology being able to modify bodily functions, such as super-strength via implants.

When a powerful virus begins spreading across the metropolis, the exiled Zala Ulora returns to the metropolis of New Cairo from the ruins. She is not only a talented hacker and fugitive from the dynasties, but is also the only individual who may be able to halt the dangerous virus that is spreading through the city’s computers. The amazing thing about Zala is that Maskill manages to write the lead character with some obvious flaws; whilst being self-sacrificing, Zala is also selfish. She intends to fight the virus, both out of disregard for her own safety, and also to earn her old life back in the city.

The virus quickly spreads through the poorer districts, targeting and shutting down the implants that many of the residents of New Cairo rely on to survive. Somewhat predictably this causes the city to become a place of anarchy, filled with class-violence and strife. The end result is to stop the virus before it destroys the city, or before the city destroys itself.

I personally found the story to be difficult to read, while many other readers found the book to be a refreshing page turner. For me the novel, though powerful, was a little disconcerting given the author’s unflinching ability to use a countless number of body bags and horrors within the pages. Despite this I found the character of Zala to be compelling, and also to be the book’s greatest strength.

Despite my reservations with this novel, I can definitely see the author’s skill at work. Maskill is certainly a talented author, who has promise to succeed in many ventures in the future. Although I am not usually a fan of dystopian novels, and The Hive Construct may not have been my cup of tea, I can certainly admire the skill and imagination behind the writing of this book.

For more information about The Hive Construct, view its Goodreads page here.