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.
©2014 Laline Paull (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers
I'm a beekeeper. It brings the complex life of the hive to life by following an unlikely heroine, Flora 717. Very different. I love it.
As a bee keeper myself I am impressed with the knowledge and fantasy of this book. What a great story and storytelling!
As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.
It’s difficult to articulate just how brilliant and utterly original this book is. You really have to experience it to understand what the author is up to here. By pulling the listener inside a bee hive and tracing the seasonal lifecycle of one remarkable worker bee, Laline Paull has created a breathtaking novel with shades of dystopia and the pacing of a political thriller, demonstrating Orwellian intelligence but somehow – refreshingly - lacking the satire.
Stepping inside the microcosmic world of The Bees threw my own world into relief and made me feel –surprisingly – rather small. That this full experience of life - dramatic, messy, complicated, harrowing - is happening all around us but on a tiny scale is incredibly humbling. Despite taking place almost entirely inside a hive, the story is begins and ends with actual human characters. The beekeeper and his family seem to stand in as symbolic representatives of the human race, which has the ugly habit of finding self-referential meaning in the natural world, always assuming itself to be the center of all drama. But Paull shunts these people into the position of mere bookends to the story, and they are completely ignorant of the richness and mystery that lies in between.
Orlagh Cassidy’s performance was almost erotic, a perfect production choice. The world of the hive is totally sensual, heady with scents and flavors. Communication between the bees happens through smell, dancing, and vibrations. It’s an ornate, lush, complex, and sweet world – filled with randy – and misogynistic – male bees.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about The Bees for the last six months, and it has not yet gotten the public recognition I believe it deserves. I’m doing my best to change that every time I recommend it to a friend or colleague!
The heroin of the story, a bright, loving, brave and loyal bee born into the wrong class (kin), is the best part of this book. Despite facing overwhelming prejudice, and thanks either to her own wit or extraordinary luck, she becomes integral to her hive's survival as the environment around them inexplicably changes.
This was the best narration I've heard so far, she so perfectly captured the tone and personalities of the various bee kin and non-bee characters. It helps that most of the voices in this book are female, but she does the male voices well, too, and really brings this little-understood world of the bees to life.
Yes--this was very suspenseful, it's hard to stop listening once you grow attached a protagonist as charming as Flora 717.
Even just at face value, the story of The Bees is a great listen, full of drama and suspense and colorful imaginative characters. Beyond that, this is a story of class struggle and individuality, of what it means to follow ones nature and to go against it. It's also a story of the incredible ways in which our decisions can impact he environment around us. And it isn't cheesy at all. Overall a wonderful book and performance.
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The Bees by Laline Paull is a superbly imaginative story of one particular bee, Flora 717, and the world encompassed in and about one particular orchard bee hive. Setting this story in the simple, yet complex world of bees, Ms Paull creates a very understandable, recognizable portrait of life in a hive, of a thousand bees working in harmony for the benefit of the Queen Bee, of an inhospitable outer world casting dangers to the hive, including smoke from fire, threats from wasps, spiders and crows, and the impact of seasons on nectar gathering. Likened to The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, Watership Down, Animal Farm, 1984, The Rats of NIMH and more, this book encompasses so many genres! While many reviewers are quick to draw similarities to these books and just as many other reviews are quick to discount the said similarities, I’d suggest you wait to make draw your own conclusions. For myself, there is no need to compare this book to another because without reference to another book, this story stands strong on its own merits.
This creative Regency thought- and speech-tinged, sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian novel begins as Flora 717 emerges from her birth chamber. Born of the Flora caste, the sanitation caste, Flora 717 is larger than those typical in her caste and has the capacity for speech, not typical of her caste, her kin. These “deformities” require the police to administer the “kindness” (removal by death) to Flora 717. It is Flora 717’s good fortune that she is save by the curiosity-driven help and encouragement of Sister Sage, of the priestess caste. And, so begins a life in which Flora 717 will demonstrate her courage and resolve to save her hive time and again. It is her determination to do right by the hive, her curiosity and her ability to think that leads Flora 717 into situations requiring “the kindness” to be imposed on her time and again, but good fortune or good luck allows her yet another day, another day to live and another day to reach outside of her caste.
The Bees is a fantastic blend of nature and fantasy. I found myself thoroughly enamored with the anthropomorphism coupled with the natural science of a bee’s hive; the intelligence and sophisticated organization that is a true wonder of the natural world. It is this anthropomorphism that will draw fans of Richard Adam’s Watership Down and of Robert O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The Hive Mind and the All For One (in this case, the “One” being the Queen Bee) and One For All unity of the hive is what may draw fans of dystopian novels in which the underdog (of a society run entirely by women, no less) rises above the “government” to become more than she should have. The dialogue shouts Regency-era, and yet hive mantra regurgitation shouts Animal Farm. The “Deformity Means Death” mindset touts the idealistic benefits of eugenics; all the while the caste system emphasizes the performance perfections of design for function and function for design. As the characters are bees, not “young adults”, this may not be technically be classified as a YA books, but there is nothing in the plot that should concern parents if their teen children express an interest in reading this novel. There is so much in these 330-plus pages to appeal to many readers, including book clubbers who love to dissect a book, to “take sides” and “argue”.
As my review is in response to listening to the audio book version of the story, I cannot comment on the text version and its state of edit. The audio book is a 10 1/4 hour listen, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy with a very clean, clear production quality. This was my first listen by Ms Cassidy, even as she has many narration performances to her credit from many different genres, and including a dozen performances of David Baldacci novels. Ms Cassidy did an outstanding job with this performance — making her voice distinctive with each caste of characters, including the humorously slothful drones, the meek sanitation workers, the proud, arrogant Sage Caste, the dutiful nursery caste and more.
Audiobook purchased for review by ABR.
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I was interested in so many levels. As a nature lover, the caste system of a bee hive was fascinating and their ability to communicate was brought to life by the author. It's also a story of a royal court with the secrets and privileges that come with it. If you like Hunger Games, you'll like this too, because the lead character, Flora 717 questions the social system that is rigged and flawed.
She was fantastic! Her narrative skills brought to life the many characters (bees and other insects) that were in the story (male, female, noble, worker, wasp, spider etc).
If it had more drama or been less predictable. I listened to it twice but not intentionally... My mind kept wandering to other, more interesting things (like watching a fly crawl up a wall) and I would have to rewind a bit and listen again
The narrator chose the same voice for different bees, and sometimes it was hard to discern who was speaking. One time she used a unique voice for the main character (Fl;ora 717) and didn't go back and edit a change. Unthinkable.
Not so much. It wasn't horrible, it just tried too hard to force normal bee activity into human attributes and feelings, and it didn't work. It seemed to be well researched... as the offspring of a beekeeper, I recognized many of the activities described, but it just proved that though they may sound interesting, to live them as a bee is pretty boring.
To compare this to Watership Down is an insult to Richard Adams and the legion of fans who treasure that work. This wasn't even a shadow of that.
I teach philosophy in Maine.
A quirky but well-crafted novel and an excellent reading.
Only Flora, the main character, really stood out as a character. Others were types.
A very clever book. The author knows the world of bees inside and out. If you can overcome the oddness of the anthropomorphism of bees this book has interesting lessons to tell about individualism vs. collectivism, hierarchy, religion, and even the epistemology. It reminded me of Nagel's now-classic essay on what it's like to be a bat. The reader is forced to consider what it might be like to be a bee, albeit one which is a little like a Disney princess -- respectful and yearning to break free from social constraints in order to find her true place in the world.
This is one of my favorite books.
I have always had a love affair with bees. When I was young, I stepped on a ground hive of wasps and was attacked by a swarm.
My mother didn't want me to develop a phobia, so she went to the library and picked up a stack of children's books about bees. I still remember trying to read out of eyes swollen nearly shut!
I have also read E. O. Wilson's theory of human eusociality, which added another layer of interest to the social dynamics of hive life as portrayed in this novel. The author takes small liberties with factual knowledge of a particular bee species to weave a tale that ultimately critiques the tensions between our post-enlightenment/democratic ideal of individualism and tribal/social responsibility.
I also very much enjoyed this story's motif of the feminine-hero's journey.
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