Monday, June 23, 2014

The Bees by Laline Paull

A lowly worker bee moves up through her hive society in Laline Paull's dystopian fantasy, The Bees. While the Holy Mother queen is worshipped as the supreme source of love and unity, the hive's survival is threatened by predators, the weather, and internal politics.

Unique in her hive, Flora 717 is large and dark, fathered by a different drone than the rest. Her curiosity sets her apart even more than her appearance. She is adept at every job, from sanitation in the morgue, to foraging, to feeding in the nursery.
"Flora could not take in Category Two [nursery] all at once, with its cheerful decorations and beautifully tiled play areas. Pretty nurses and nannies sat with their vigorous little charges, singing and playing games or feeding them from shining platters. Healthy, beautiful child-grubs were everywhere, their cheerful snubby little faces speckled with golden pollen dust."
Not a typical viewpoint on grubs. If you aren't squeamish about insects, contrast the description above with online photos here.

Photo by Laurie MacFayden
Flora's secret is that she is fertile. Only the queen is allowed to lay eggs, so this is a big deal.

"Accept, Obey, and Serve" is the hive's credo. Fertility police, jealous priestesses, conspiring rebels and profligate males are among the factions Flora must negotiate.

Photo by Laurie MacFayden
The Bees is an odd mix of natural science and fantasy. I'm interested in bees and Laline includes a lot of realistic insect behaviours. This is perhaps what made the anthropomorphism occasionally jarring. For the most part, however, I was swept up in Flora's adventure. I also find myself looking at the bees in my garden in a whole new way!

Readalikes - a varied selection, but they capture different appeal elements: Watership Down (Richard Adams); Ant Colony (Michael DeForge); The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood); The Orphan Master's Son (Adam Johnson); Albert of Adelaide (Howard Anderson).

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