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
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.
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).
I love books but find little time to actually sit and read, so audiobooks have vastly increased my reading lists. I am a journalist who got out of the field just as it imploded. I adore anything by Dean Koontz (Just finished the Frankenstein series and am up to date on Odd Thomas' wanderings). Neil GAiman and Terry Pratchett are also at the top of my list of love-to-reads.
I don't know. The narrator was OK, but the story was so not believable, even if it was a novel , using bees as some sort of metaphor, that I almost stopped reading it once I realized what was going on. I think I kept listening because I thought maybe it would redeem itself and finally I had too much time in to stop.
Make it believable.
I was angry that someone would take something so important as a bee colony and turn it into a morality story giving a highly regulated society the same emotions as humans in a romance novel.
All of my reviews are on my blog audiobookreviewer dot com
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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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.
Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
In simplest terms, The Bees is a novel that explores the phenomena of colony collapse in bees with a speculative slant. In more complex terms, this is a dystopian novel that takes issues ranging from racism to self-acceptance and investigates them in this structured “society,” entwining science and myth to present a story that is both analytical and dreamy. It’s a little strange to call this a dystopian story when you have the bee world under a human world that operates “normally.” In fact, readers only see humans briefly a total of four times during this story. We do get to witness the affect that humans have on the bee world, though. And even later, we find out that this story runs concurrent to a human story that we don’t witness, but readers learn is represented symbolically through the bees story.
The hero of the story is Flora 717. We start at her birth where she narrowly escapes the Fertilization Police whose job consists of eradicating anything that doesn’t fall within the hives standards of normalcy. Flora is born too large, too dark, and she’s born into the lowest caste in the hive–sanitation. However, she’s born able to speak unlike other members in Flora. She also has the special ability to make Flow, a substance used to feed the Queen’s offspring. One of the hive’s Sages has mercy on Flora to sedate a curiosity. Flora overcomes many insurmountable odds to reinvent herself many times while in the hive, moving from the nursery to sanitation to foraging. Her actions decide the fate of her hive.
Flora lives in a world that subsists on rules, duty, Mother’s Love (a ritual involving the Queen giving off a scent that reminds the hive of her “love”), and appreciating Maleness (represented by spoiled, lazy male bees with names like “Sir Linden” who use crude language while speaking like they’re Victorian transplants). This world reminds her that she falls short of perfection repeatedly while demanding her loyalty, obedience, and her sweat. These are things that Flora is willing to give to her hive regardless of being an anomaly until she encounters the strongest emotion of all.
Orlagh Cassidy (great name!) narrates Flora’s story from the days she spends sheltered in the hive to her feeling of freedom as a forager. Some of her voices can sound similar, but I sort of wrote this off because the bees are a hive unit. There’s not supposed to be much variance between them in their respective jobs, so it makes sense that many of them sound like the same bee. The voices she uses for the Sir Maleness bunch is hilarious. It may not be the most manly thing you’ll hear from a female narrator, but she captures the tone, the arrogance, the entitlement dead on. It’s really hard not to chuckle a little bit the males. Her voice for the Spiders, especially the Black Minerva, was notable as well. The Spiders, along with the bees’ cousins the Wasps, serve as one of many outside antagonists in this story. The Spiders are witch women, truth-filled villains who speak hard facts if their high price is met. However, Cassidy’s voicing of Flora is where she excels and manages to capture the most variance and emotional nuance.
Complaints? There are a few. This first complaint isn’t really the book’s fault. Again, who is writing these blurbs where they insist on comparing books to other pieces of existing literature? This is really starting to get ridiculous. Let’s just strike this book being like The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. The only thing this book has in common with The Hunger Games is the fact that its “citizens” are divided up into different groups, which could be like any piece of media (or real life) that divides its people up. Now, it does share a similar sentiment and atmosphere as The Handmaid’s Tale, but comparing it to that book overlooks the unique angle that Paull takes with her story.
Second, the presentation of the social issues can sometimes seem a bit too abstract. While reading this, I wondered if the messages of things such as racism, sexism, and class issues might be lost on some readers. Despite what emotions this book may tug in readers, it’s easy to disconnect from the underlying message because BEES! I might’ve pondered this a bit too much while I was listening to this. Also, I applaud Paull for using science (while taking liberties, of course) and trying to combine it with myth, but there are some bits that can come off a little too dreamy and fairy tale-like such as the Melissae, which is what the Sages call their collective group.
Overall, Flora’s story is a compelling, emotional journey. She’s tough both physically and emotionally while being tempered with inquisitiveness, independence, and sensitivity. I’m still asking myself how I managed to be gut-punched in the feelings by bees.
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