Laline Paull’s novelThe Beeshas been described many ways: “strange,” “imaginative,” “epic,” and “dense.” It is all of those and more. While it finds its place somewhere between Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, it is unique.
The novel’s main character is Flora 717, a sanitation bee and member of the hive’s lowest caste. Worship of the Queen is the religion of the hive. Each bee’s birth, life, and death are a sacrifice to her. The unfolding of Flora 717’s life is one of loyalty and justice, treachery and temptation.
Through a feat of bravery, Flora wins access to the Queen’s inner chambers. There she discovers things that a bee of her stature shouldn’t know. The stakes become higher when she finds a power that is even greater than devotion to her Queen. This discovery changes the purpose of her life but also the hope and future of the hive.
The Bees is both timeless and timely—timeless in its authentic and careful construction of the complex societies of bee colonies, and timely as it speaks subtly but powerfully to the present ecological dangers to the world’s bee populations.
This is a good read for anyone, but especially those intrigued by animal kingdom communities, cultures, and adventures. It is most definitely a read for beekeepers and anyone who dreams of someday owning a hive or two. (Ecco)
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