Laline Paull’s The Bees has been on my TBR list for a very long time. I haven’t read many of them, but I’m always intrigued by books with a complete cast of non-human characters. And, while I am allergic to bees, there’s something about them that I just like. So this novel definitely interested me.
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest caste in her hive. But Flora has skills not typical of her kin – she can speak and even produce nectar. Mutant bees, even those with beneficial mutations, are usually instantly destroyed. But Flora becomes an experiment, and is reassigned to feed the newborns in the nursery, and then sent out as a forager to collect pollen. Flora’s talents draw the attention of the Queen, and soon, she finds herself in the company of the hive’s most elite, where she discovers many secrets of the hive’s inner workings. Flora treads thin ice in the Queen’s company, where enemies are everywhere. And while those around the Queen guard the Hive Mind, Flora finds herself drawn to the most forbidden of acts.
The Bees is an incredibly imaginative novel. I couldn’t help but recall Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale while reading this book – there are a lot of similarities. I found the structure of the bees’ society to be very interesting; it is reminiscent of dystopian fiction, which I suppose this is. There is a very strict social hierarchy, and going beyond those guidelines is dangerous and rare. I enjoyed the creativity of this novel, but it was a paradox for me: I was intrigued by the premise and the characters, and wanted to see where it would go, but I was often bored while reading, and struggled to get through it.
I honestly still don’t know what to say about The Bees. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It’s not a book I will reread, though the idea still interests me. I can’t find anything technically wrong with it, except perhaps that the prose is a bit pretentious. Overall, I think it’s worth reading based solely on the fact that it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. If you’re looking for a blend of dystopian and literary fiction, this might be the book for you.
If you’ve read The Bees, let me know your thoughts!