Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Accept. Obey. Serve.
Only the Queen May Breed.
These are the mottoes of the hive in Laline Paul’s “The Bees,” a world in which Flora 717, a sanitation worker and the lowest class in the hierarchy of her hive, is required to follow wholeheartedly or she faces certain death. As we witness Flora’s birth in the first few pages, we immediately know that she is special, different from the hundreds of other low level bees in her hive. Flora discovers early on that she can speak, that she produces Flow (an important nourishing substance to feed larvae) and that she possesses another exceptional secret ability that sets her apart from all of her sisters (all the bees in a hive are female). Throughout the book Flora overcomes great challenges (rain, foraging, wasps, crows) to conceal her gift from the those that threaten her existence.
All in all, I liked this book. And I don’t even like bees. I found myself awestruck by the many things I learned about these fascinating creatures, as I never knew bees’ lives were so complex. This novel was a drastic departure from what I normally read, because I typically don’t go for stories that feature animal characters. Paull’s writing, however, worked beautifully here. Bees became less scary and “human” for me. I felt genuine happiness when Flora and her kin survived to fight another day, and (dare I say it) sadness when one of the little buggers around her died. By the end of this book I remember thinking: Wow, I am officially a bee sympathizer now…
Comparisons to “The Handmaid’s Tale” will be inevitable here. Whether the author intended to or not, you will find all of the earmarks of a dystopian fiction novel here. The constant repetition of the “accept, obey, serve” motto is at the center of the Hive Mind. There’s thought reading, social control, as well as questions and considerations surrounding reproductive freedom to ponder. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I highly recommend.