What’s it all about?:
The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.
Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…
Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.
What did I think?:
I was first attracted to this book in Foyles where the beautiful bright yellow cover immediately attracted my eye but it was not until I read the intriguing synopsis that I knew I had to read it. Told from the point of view of a bee, Flora 717 is an unlikely heroine in a world that demands uniformity and perfection with no deviation from the norm allowed. It’s been described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games and I can easily understand the comparisons but I think it’s also similar to books such as 1984 and Brave New World as a fascinating look at how a society can be brain-washed into believing certain ideals for the greater good as they imagine it.
Flora 717 begins her life in the Hive as a sanitation bee, the lowest caste of all bees and nothing is expected of them except to make sure the Hive was clean at all times. However, it’s not long before the higher caste bees begin to realise that Flora is no ordinary bee. For a start, she can speak – a function not given to the lower castes as it is not usually required. She can also produce “flow,” the substance given to developing larvae and for a while Flora is put to work in the Hive nursery, feeding and taking care of the infants. She is then given the opportunity to become a forager i.e. searching outside the Hive for as much pollen as she can carry back and becomes rather good at it. Even her bumblebee dances which explain to the other foragers where to get the best pollen and warn of any potential dangers, are praised and looked forward to on a daily basis.
It is not long before Flora is admitted into the inner sanctum of the Hive, where the Queen resides, attended to by high priestess bees. Once again, her intelligence and talents surprise everyone and surpass everything ever seen before from regular bees. It looks like life can only get better for Flora with ears in such high places, then something happens that has the potential to threaten everything she has ever known. Flora cannot help her response to such a situation and, as a result, must try desperately to hide her secret as much as she can. This is dangerous territory, especially when their Holy Mother the Queen is having problems of her own in a sensitive area that involves the future of the hive. Furthermore, the Hive Mind will always seek out any mutant bees or rogue thoughts in their midst that cannot be controlled by the sweet pheromones pumped out by the Queen Bee.
This was a really interesting and unique read, a dystopian fantasy from the perspective of a creature we normally take for granted, the humble bumblebee. I loved Flora as a main character, she had just the right amount of tenderness and rebellion to make her exciting and so very readable. The author has clearly carried out astute research into the life of bees yet I still had to laugh at the mental images I was getting of these little insects, such as sweeping the floors and doing their little explanatory dances.
Image courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-dance-bumble-bee-image5957307
Never fear adrenalin junkies there are also plenty of action sequences in this novel as we see the Hive battle enemies such as mice, spiders and their old adversary the evil wasp! Then there are the princely male bumblebees which provided an extra bit of humour as they were preened and doted on by the females before finding their own mate outside of the Hive. To be honest, I don’t really have much to criticise about this book, it was slightly slow in the beginning but as I settled into the style of writing I began to love Flora and all she stood for. If you’re an animal lover or intrigued by the world of bees specifically, this is the perfect book for you. I learned a lot but I was also highly entertained which of course is the main thing!
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
Image courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-dancing-bumblebee-colored-cartoon-illustration-vector-image44156434