BookBrowse Reviews The Bees by Laline Paull

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Bees

by Laline Paull

The Bees by Laline Paull
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2014, 352 pages
    May 2015, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lucy Rock

Buy This Book

About this Book



This lively work of dystopian fiction lends an interesting spin to topics such as gender politics and police states — all by focusing on a colony of bees.

A palpable buzzing noise fills our heads as we turn the final page of playwright Laline Paull's compelling debut, The Bees. Built on the foundations of a limitless imagination and flawless research, this new slice of dystopian fiction will no doubt leave the reader hankering for more.

Nestled deep within the orchards of an overgrown garden, sits an old wooden hive. Deep within it lives our narrator Flora 717, a worker bee from the sanitation division of her colony. Large, dark and incredibly hairy she is looked upon as ugly, insignificant and even deformed, her destiny: to scrub the honeycomb walls and dispose of the dead. Unlike her fellow sanitation workers, Flora can not only speak but is physically and mentally more powerful than her companions.

Noticing her special gifts, the sacred priestesses that run the hive on behalf of the Queen, offer Flora a way out of the drudgery, putting her to work feeding the newborns in the royal nursery. This experiment becomes the catalyst to a life of excitement for Flora. From the nursery, she battles her way through the ranks, using her strength and smarts as a forager, flying out on dangerous missions in search of nectar. All the same, despite her loyalty, Flora hides an agonizing secret that could ultimately spell disaster for the hive.

This is an utterly unique, gripping novel whose heady mix of dystopia, naturalism and feminist concern will no doubt draw debate. Built on a daring concept, this is a sophisticatedly executed debut novel. The queen is a benevolent, immortal deity who showers eternal love on her obedient servants. Yet life in the hive is repressive and often frightening. Case in point: a masked police force and rambunctious, lewd Drone bees — who rather farcically demand heavy petting and lots of honey.

In addition to the human traits she gives her bug protagonists, Paull vividly and accurately lays out the hierarchy of the honeybee colonies — their dangers, joys, devotion to the queen. These complex societies provide fertile ground for exploring daring themes such as religious fervour, police states, gender politics, the very real threat posed by predators (known as 'The Myriad') and perhaps, most relevant, the toxic pesticides sprayed on crops that decimate the hive's population. Paull clearly knows her topic inside out. This allows her the dramatic license to create some powerful scenes: the mass-murder of the Drones at the hands of their outraged females and the workers finally gathering the courage to stand up and be accounted for.

Readers might see an insect-retelling of George Orwell's 1984, and the scenes of destruction at the hands of the "fertility police" conjure up warped images of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

Although we never quite lose sight of Flora's "alien" quality as a bee, the beauty of these animals, their precious home, the treacherous task of foraging to keep that alive and the tension whenever a predator passes by, allow us to become thoroughly invested in her story. While certain important details seemed clumsily glued together towards the end, and Flora's far-fetched opportunities in her new role as top forager are plainly used as devices to rush the plot forward to its preordained conclusion, the sheer breadth of her adventures outside the hive, the domestic drama, and various personalities kept me glued to my seat.

With the plight of the honeybees an increasing concern in environmental circles, this book goes beyond the field of fiction and becomes a testament to why we should all do our bit to help.

Reviewed by Lucy Rock

This review was originally published in July 2014, and has been updated for the May 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Queen Bee

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Rules of Magic
    The Rules of Magic
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to one of her most cherished novels,...
  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee

    A moving exploration of growing up and growing old, and the ties that bind parents and children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.