Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…
This book is very, very original. It is written from the point of view of a bee named Flora, and the book presents a dystopian and almost totalitarian society. Flora doesn’t seem to think too many things — she doesn’t dwell on her situation or her surroundings, and her actions are described more often than her thoughts are. And yet, she is so vivid to the reader. We come to understand who she is and what she wants and we come to understand her purpose in this novel. Laline has done a fantastic job of creating a fleshed out, three dimensional character within this dystopian (and extremely unique) environment.
For the first fifty pages, I almost felt like I was reading another language. There are specific terms for bees within each level of ‘society’ in their hive, and their life and their actions and their ‘work’ has been described with a specific terminology. It does take a bit of getting used to — the writing style is very descriptive. The author goes into great detail about Flora’s world and what she sees in that world.
Since this entire novel is written from the point of view of a bee, the reader has to adapt to what their threats are, and thus, what the ‘tension’ is in the book. Bees fear wasps and spiders and rain. Naturally, readers don’t find those as threatening, but we are forced to imagine the situation from Flora’s point of view.
Laline must have done a fair bit of research before writing this novel, because there are a lot to things to be learnt from the day-to-day life presented to us readers. Bees do dance to communicate, and the different ‘work’ that is performed in a hive is true to reality. However, I do think this novel would’ve been better had it of been shorter. It’s about 100-150 pages too long. By the end, I just wanted to finish it. I’ve read a lot of reviews where readers felt the story dragged on and it got monotonous and that The Bees would’ve been better as a novella or short story. I agree. I would’ve liked to have seen this cut down. But, it is fascinating and it is extremely well-written and it’s a great piece of literary fiction.
My Score: 7/10