Monday, May 26, 2014

Review of The Bees by Laline Paull

There's lots of "buzz" about this book, and most of it is well deserved.  It's the story of a hive and of a particular bee in that hive.  Flora 717 is a sanitation bee in an orchard hive (humans placed it there), and she is a little different from her fellow sanitation bees.  Sanitation bees do the dirty work in the hive: they clean up bodies of dead bees and other messes that occur. They are low in the bee hierarchy, although most of the bees, be they foraging bees, nursery bees, drones, etc, all repeat the mantra of the hive "Accept, Obey, Serve."  But our bee, Flora 717, has a different story.  She is different from the other bees.  She is a breakout bee, who thinks for herself, and has abilities the others don't have, even though she si regarded as not only ugly by the others, but as the lowliest kind of bee. Until the queen bee takes notice.

This book is truly a cross, or homage to Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Orwell's 1984/Animal Farm. The setting is dystopian, a society struggling to survive, but reluctant to adapt as the world around them is changing.

Well written and with a fairly compelling story line, there were a few sections where I became mired down, and wished for sharper editing: the bees activity, even that of the heroine, Flora, sometimes became repetitive. I guess that reflects the life of the hive, and the hive mind: dull, repetitive, mechanized, without feeling, or more importantly, without time or energy fro feelings. Flora, a sanitation bee with her own mind and a voice, cannot help but fight against the Melissae, and the fertility police.  I did love the references to the Melissae, which means "the bees" in Greek. The Melissae in ancient Greece were a group of priestesses that were honored as having regenerative and magical powers, much like bees, and the Greeks did indeed keep bees, and appreciated their magical powers to create honey and come back after the winter to make more.

This is a physically beautiful book, I love the cover, even the ARC copy was gorgeous, as is the hardcover.

4.5 stars
I'm giving this novel 5 stars on Amazon, although I feel 4.5 would be more appropriate: great novel, (although not perfect) and I expect great things from this author in the future.  It would have been really cool if she expanded the connection to the ancient Greeks and bees in human history, as well as some of the other insects that appear in the story.

For further reading on The Melissae and bees throughout human history., go here.

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