The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.
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 an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into 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 fertility - enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society - and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window.
The priestess walked swiftly through the pale corridors of the Arrivals Hall. Flora followed closely, her brain recording all the sounds and scents as different kin broke free of their emergence chambers. Many more dark sanitation workers moved along the gutters with bundles of soiled wax. Noting their sharp, distinctive odor and how other bees avoided any contact with them, Flora drew closer to Sister Sage and her fragrant wake.
The priestess paused, antennae raised. They had come to the edge of the Arrivals Hall, where the countless rows of emergence cells ended and a large hexagonal doorway led into a smaller chamber. A burst of applause from within carried out a thrilling new odor. Flora looked up at Sister Sage.
"Unfortunate timing," said the priestess. "But I must pay my respects." They went inside, where she put Flora to wait by the wall and then went to the front of a large crowd of bees. Flora watched as once again they burst out clapping, standing around ...
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. 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.
(Reviewed by Lucy Rock).
Full Review (583 words).
The structure of a honeybee hive is both fascinating and highly complex — a pod of thousands of female worker bees, a few hundred male drones in the summer and, at the epicentre, the queen.
As a former queen begins to fail (i.e. ceases to lay eggs due to age or illness), workers will make special, larger queen cells in which nurse bees raise queen larvae, feeding them a special substance called royal jelly. Although ordinary honey bees are fed this very early in their development, queens eat only royal jelly throughout their lives. The nutrient-rich substance allows her to grow to one-and-half times the size of an ordinary bee with a fully developed reproductive system, capable of laying up to two thousand eggs per day.
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