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The Bees (2014)

by Laline Paull

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,74812810,112 (3.78)190
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all'daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence'enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society'and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds. Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.… (more)
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» See also 190 mentions

English (125)  Italian (1)  All languages (126)
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
4.5 if I could. An absolute pleasure! ( )
  trainsparrow | Apr 29, 2024 |
Quite interesting ( )
  zjakkelien | Jan 2, 2024 |
I was given this book by a friend so decided to read it. Although I am a fan of bees, I had received the impression that this book was a bit odd so wouldn't have gone out of my way to read it.

The protagonist Flora 717 is from an untouchables caste called Flora, and is unusual in being able to speak. As such she is plucked by one of the Sage caste, priestesses, from her lowly role and enlisted to tend young bees in the bee nursery for a while. She can produce 'flow' which we are told early on is Royal Jelly (which I knew was fed to infant bees for a short while and if fed longer would produce Queens). However, the bee lifecycle seemed to contradict what I had read previously. As far as I am aware, all the female workers - the majority of the bees in the hive - are sterile so it wouldn't be possible for Flora 717 to produce eggs, and in any case, who is the father of her offspring, as she never mates with anyone, yet late on in the story it transipres that the father of her surviving child has distinguishing characteristics which affect colouring and size etc.

Similarly, from previous reading, bees perform the various roles within the hive, including tending the young, foraging for food, fanning the hive with their wings to regulate temperature etc at different stages of their lifecycle. Whereas in this book, they are born into these roles and Flora 717 is unusual in being able to transcend her alloted place.

It is quite interesting that the Queen is practically worshipped and that the main form of control is through pheromones. Also the portrayal of the drones is quite interesting. But there isn't much real character development despite the attempt to make a few bees such as the forager who trains Flora, and a less obnoxious drone, more prominent as characters.

The working in of human impacts on the environment - a field contaminated with some kind of spray that kills bees and other wildlife, for example - and the enmity of other creatures, such as wasps and spiders, provide external threats to the hive to bolster the internal threats to Flora who is in danger of being exterminated by the police bees if her true difference and 'deviance' in laying her own eggs is discovered. Yet even here the viewpoint is confused - when she encounters humans in what appears to be a sweet warehouse she is able to comprehend that they are driving vehicles etc when such contrivances should be beyond her comprehension.

I found that overall the book failed to convince. The bees are sometimes portrayed as the alien/different creatures they are, and sometimes are all too human. I was willing to suspend disbelief to the point of accepting talking bees, but when such bees are strutting round wearing clothing, or have produced fine carvings on their walls, it does become a bit difficult to visualise. The book is an easy, page turning read, but given the issues I had with the overall believability of the story, I would rate it as an OK 2 stars. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Now that was quite a strange experience.

To begin, this is listed on Amazon as 'Dystopian' and 'Dystopian Science Fiction', it is neither of these.   How anyone can get to class the typical life cycle of a hive of a honey bee hive to fit either of those genres is utterly beyond my comprehension.

If i were to genre-ise this book then i would put it firmly in the children's fantasy and children's education section.   Why?   Because if you have a child who is getting to the age where you have to have that conversation about the birds and the bees, then i think this book would be a great way to broach the subject, both literally and metaphorically.   It pretty much covers everything there is concerning the life cycle of bees but presents it in an anthropomorphic way that i would consider appropriate for children learning about these things.

If i was home schooling a child then this book would definitely be getting read and explored a lot further.   If it was juxtaposed with a genuinely accurate text about the life cycle and habits of honey bees there would be a great deal to discuss with a learning child.   One could also take nature walks with a child to spot the various flowers and trees mentioned, maybe even visit a real bee hive.   I remember when i was a child my local museum had a beehive in a big glass case with the entrance through the back wall behind the case.   It was incredibly fascinating.

But as a book for adults alone, no, it's just far too childish for my tastes.

The main character, a honey bee that is a freak but isn't killed by the other bees at birth for being so, becomes some new kind of super bee that seems to be able to resist the hive mind and do whatever she wants and goes through most of the jobs in the hive doing them all better than the bees whose sole job they've been bred for.   On top of the childishness of this aspect is the childishness of heavily anthropomorphising this character far above the general anthropomorphising of all the other bees.

Not that i mind a bit of anthropomorphising, but for a honey bee it does get overdone to childishness, which is why i consider this a children's book.

Other than that, i have to say that it is very well written, with a flowing style and easy language -- again, making it very suitable for children.

Rather disappointed, but for 99p i shouldn't really moan. ( )
  5t4n5 | Aug 9, 2023 |
(maybe 3.5) Bees. I like them. I love the bee civilization Laline Paull has created with a mashup of (almost unbelievably) real facts and her own inventions. And I like the accidental-rebel bee, Flora 717, who shows us around the hive.
It's true that under this bee hive frame the setup is a classic dystopia, but Paull resists the temptation to moralize; Flora's adversaries are not evil. For me this saves The Bees from being lumped in with the armies of forgettable dystopian novels that have come out in recent years. But I can see how it might feel unsatisfying or meandering to others for it's lack of a message. The closest thing to a lesson here is: (minor spoiler) agricultural pesticides kill bees!

A note about differences between editions: I started this as an audio book from my library, and finished it in paperback form, switching back and forth between versions in the middle. The narrator for the audio book does a great job, but at times there's excessive flowery (pun!) description which would drive even me (a lover of flowers & purplish prose) nuts if I was reading rather than listening. I noticed that my paperback edition had in fact undergone a substantial further edit in this regard.

In summary: I enjoyed this book and recommend it. Some stretches are a bit slow and repetitive, which is what kept me from giving 4 stars. ( )
  Littlecatbird | Jul 7, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paull, Lalineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cassidy, OrlaghNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The bee's life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water. — Karl von Frisch
Dedication
For Adrian
First words
The old orchard stood besieged. To one side spread a vast, arable plain, a dullard's patchwork of corn and soy reaching to the dark tree line on the hills. To the other, a light-industrial development stretched toward the town. -Prologue
The cell squeezed her, and the air was hot and fetid. All the joints of her body burned from her frantic twisting against the walls. Her head was pressed into her chest and her legs shot with cramps, but her struggles had worked - one wall felt weaker. She kicked out with all her strength and felt something crack and break. She forced and tore and bit until there was a jagged hole into fresher air beyond. -Chapter One
Quotations
Accept. Obey. Serve.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive, where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw, but her courage and strength are assets. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect nectar and pollen. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all'daring to challenge the Queen's preeminence'enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the hive's strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by a greater power: a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society'and lead her to perform unthinkable deeds. Thrilling, suspenseful, and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees and its dazzling young heroine will forever change the way you look at the world outside your window.

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Book description
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. But Flora is not like other bees. Despite her ugliness she has talents that are not typical of her kin. While mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is removed from sanitation duty and is allowed to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. But enemies are everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. And when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all her instinct to serve is overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will lead to the unthinkable.
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