Book Review: The Bees
By: Laline Paull
Published By: Ecco
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Page Count: 340
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Fantasy
This one was an unrequested gift from the publisher. I don't always have time to work those beauties in quickly, but this one called to me so I did my best to squeeze it in as soon as I possibly could. The Bees was supposed to be "The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games". While I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, I love The Hunger Games. I decided something compared to a beloved series with insects as the characters was something I needed to read. I also expect that this one will also conjure memories of Animal Farm for many readers.
The Bees is a deviation from my standard reading fare. I don't often read adult literary fiction. Most of the adult titles I read are historical fiction, but I felt like I needed to push outside of my comfort zone. I did find that I couldn't be lazy with this one. There is so much going on and so many details to remember that you can't just glide pleasurably through this novel. It demands your attention from moment one.
The novel opens with the birth of Flora 717, a bee who is destined to be a sanitation worker. The social structure of the bees brought to mind the caste system of India. Bees are born into specific roles; change is an abnormality that is not allowed to flourish. Interaction between the bees is also determined by the hive's social hierarchy. Flora 717 immediately shows characteristics that set her apart from her kin. She becomes a symbol for change throughout the novel as she breaks all the molds and rules of the hive. I was in awe of her resilience and courage. She chose to stand up for herself and those she loved even when it meant a certain death.
I wasn't sure how I would enjoy a novel in which the main characters were bees, but I found that the author did a beautiful job of pulling me into this world and helping me visualize life in the hive. The beauty of this life is balanced by some gruesome moments and lack of freedom. As I read, I searched for parallels between Flora's world and human society: gender inequality and diversity were elements that continued to crop up for me.
Overall, I found this to be a novel that was both unique and thought provoking. I loved watching Flora adapt and strive to do her best for the hive. It was apparent that Laline Paull had done a vast amount of research and observation to make this novel feel authentic. I doubt I will ever be able to look at a bee without thinking of Flora and her sisters.
One Last Gripe: There were some moments that I wish had moved along a bit faster.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved getting to explore the hive and its social structure.
First Sentence: The old orchard stood besieged.
Favorite Character: Flora 717
Least Favorite Character: Sister Sage
The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen's fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window.