Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Bees by Laline Paull

I'm honestly shocked that this book isn't more popular and doesn't have higher ratings, but looking at the blurb for it, I can guess why. Some fool from marketing decided to brand it as "Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games," which is laughable. The Handmaid's Tale comparison I could see as it explores the concepts of authoritarianism, blind worship of authority by a populace intentionally made dumb by those in power, and a caste system intended to repress its people. But The Hunger Games comparison? No. A better comparison would be The Handmaid's Tale meets Watership Down, because the vehicle for this dystopian society is a beehive filled with honeybees.

Flora is a sanitation worker, the lowliest caste in the hive. But she was born with abilities that make her special, such as a fantastic sense of smell and the ability to speak, which makes her a curiosity to those in power. She's brought in to work in a nursery as an experiment and later on, is tasked with foraging. Her numerous experiences throughout the various castes of the hive end up giving her ample opportunities to not only better herself, but to question the authoritarian tenets of the hive that demand unequivocal subjugation at all times.

The world-building in this book is simply phenomenal and many of the bee behaviors in this book are rooted in fact. Some reviewers have said that the pacing can be tedious at times, and I will agree that certain passages do feel bogged down. But there's also a lot of really great passages lovingly detailing the rituals of the bees, and their day-to-day lives. Some of my favorite scenes were: the battle between the princesses, the sheer ribald machismo of the male drones and how they acted like a bunch of drunken and lascivious medieval knights, Flora's battles, the scene in the greenhouse with the spider and the venus flytrap, and so much more!

If you like books about personified animals, like Michael H. Payne's BLOOD JAGUAR, Richard Adams's WATERSHIP DOWN, and Robert C. O'Brien's MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, then I think you will love this book. It's dark and disturbing, but I've never read anything quite like it and it saddens me to think that so many people will be missing out on a great book because the preliminary reviews were people who were led to expect something different.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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