Title: The Bees
Author: Laline Paul
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy
Rating: Liked it (3 out of 5)
This month, the theme for my book club was “judging a book by it’s cover”. The idea was to pick a book just because you liked the look of it. No deep thinking, examing the blurb on the back, or checking reviews.
The Bees was hard to miss. The cover is bright yellow (a colour I love) and the book took up a whole shelf on the bookcase facing the door of the book shop. A closer look (at the front, not the back because I wasn’t allowed) included a quote by Margaret Atwood, my favourite author. I was sold. Purchase made, I got to read the back cover and was intrigued and excited to read.
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.
I blame it on the fact that I haven’t had much sleep recently but despite the title and the description, I still didn’t quite get that Flora was a bee and this was the story of the hive. For some reason I thought I was going to be reading about a dystopian future where society was organised along a hive-like set of rules. I’m glad I was wrong because the actual concept is much more interesting, and different from anything I’ve read before.
The problem was that, in order to move the plot along, and show how complex, controlling and hierarchical life in the hive is, Flora had to take on any number of roles and break any number of rules to living in such a society that I just couldn’t quite believe. Born as a Sanitation Worker, she is selected by the highest kin of Sage to work in the nursery and feed the Queen’s babies. To do this, she needs to produce flow, something bees of her birth shouldn’t be able to do. Then, she becomes a Forager because she understands the dance of another bee, again something she shouldn’t be able to do. And so it goes.
It also goes on a little too long, which was my second problem with the book. I think it could have done with being 50 pages shorter. Instead the tension that was being built up dissipated and where I should have been urging Flora on and biting my nails hoping she survives, I was wondering when it would all be over. Certain a things, such as her closing off her antenna were repeated in detail when a sentence would do.
That said, I did enjoy the book and thought it was a good debut with a great original idea. The beginning really drew me in and Flora was an interesting, strong, female character who stepped outside her traditional role, giving the book a strong feminist message I couldn’t help but cheer her on for. I also learnt a lot about bees. Every time I came across something that made me think “really?” I was on Google looking it up. My new found knowledge was an interesting “side effect” and I now quite fancy taking a bee keeping course.
I have recommended and passed on the book and, for me, it was a solid 3 out of 5. Have you read it? What did you think?