The Bees by Laline Paull
An outcast heroine, forced to fight against an unjust system where everyone has to fit into their roles. This could be the synopsis of any YA novel of recent years. Except in this novel, the heroine is a bee.
Flora 717 is the lowest caste in her hive. She lives in a totalitarian society where everyone, including Flora worships the Queen and is blindly prepared to sacrifice their lives for her. But while Flora is considered large and ugly by the others she has hidden depths and secrets she must keep from others. Secrets that could destroy the hive.
On the surface, this does not sound like a good idea for a novel. In fact, its sounds like a downright odd one. But then Watership Down is considered a classic and that was a novel about rabbits. So putting my scepticism aside after a recommendation from a friend I sat down to read The Bees.
Paull has written an ambitious novel, which seems to have been meticulously researched although infused naturally with flights of fantasy to make for a dramatic story as Flora finds her place in her world. It’s a brilliant read that deserves all the acclaim it’s been getting. The way Laline Paull describes this hive as a functioning society where everyone has a role is engaging. Flora is a likeable protagonist and her struggles to move up the ranks despite her lowly beginnings make her easy to root for.
The description of the male bees is hilarious; preening, spoilt and consider everyone lower than them. They boast how their scent intoxicates the females who are overwhelmed “by their maleness”. Unfortunately, the male bees cannot see how crude they are or how pitifully they are as they come to the end of their lives and have not mated. There are also some creepy moments, such as when Flora comes up against the wasps or when she is confronted by a spider that offers truths for the hive but expects a horrible exchange for such insights.
I guess this book would be described as some sort of fantasy/thriller/drama hybrid for those who want something different for their summer reads. Some people may find it a bit too quirky or unable to get over the fact the main characters is a bee. But for those looking for a unique read this is definitely one to recommend.