Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Accept. Obey. Serve.

Right around my birthday I got a review request for a book with sort of a weird premise. But it's not a romance or "triumph of the human spirit" Nicholas Sparks type book, which was enough to make me want to look a little closer.

The book is The Bees by Laline Paull. A letter in the beginning of the book describes it as The Handmaid's Tale meets Animal Farm with some Hunger Games thrown in. I like those things, so yeah, let's do this!

It's a book about, well, bees. The title isn't trying to be overly clever or a metaphor for something. The story is about a colony of bees. Or specifically about Flora 717, a sanitation bee. But there's something different about her. She's supposed to be a silent member of the colony, down at the bottom of the hierarchy, cleaning up after the other bees. But she's brought up to the nursery, to help care for the young. Then she gets to meet the Queen, who is the be-all (HA!), end-all in bee world, a ruler, a deity, and literal mother to the entire colony. She becomes a forager and gets to leave the hive and experience the world. But everything comes back to the hive, what's best for the home and all of the sisters. Accept, Obey, Serve is the repeated motto of the hive.

It's difficult to say there's a definite plot to this. It's more a series of adventures Flora has as she interacts with all castes in the hive, sees the Myriad (anything that wants to eat bees), searches for pollen, and tries to survive the winter. It was a little confusing at first, as I kept waiting for a set antagonist to show up, but once I realized that wasn't going to happen and started to go with the flow, I liked Flora's journey.

I need to address is those comparison books: Handmaid's Tale, Hunger Games, Animal Farm. Because I enjoyed this book a lot, but the more I read it the more I thought about those comparisons and though "OK, well, it's like none of those*." On the one hand I want to say they shouldn't describe it that way cos it's not really a good comparison. Then I figured part of the reason I agreed to read it was because of those, and sure, it's not really like those books but it got their foot in the door, so I guess the strategy worked. And since I ended up enjoying the book, I didn't feel cheated.

One thing that took a little getting used to is the characters. Because they're all bees. And not only that, but every member of a certain caste as the same name. Flora isn't named Flora. She's Flora 717. But a lot of the time she's just referred to as Flora. Same thing with Sage, priestess level bees, and all of the other groups that I can't remember/find at the moment. That could lead to some confusion when I'd have to remember if that was the Sage from the beginning of the book or a different Sage. And did it really matter? Also, they're bees. Which I know I've repeated a few times, but this needs to be made clear. They're anthropomorphized but like juuuuuust shy of Disney level. And there is zero singing, though a lot of dancing.

I can't say how accurate the descriptions of bee hives and behavior is. I bring this up because of the dancing because real-world bees do dance to tell the other bees where they can find pollen, which is pretty awesome. It seems that Paull did a good amount of research without this ever feeling like a textbook. Setting the story in the world of bees makes for an interesting way to write about a completely different, culture I suppose is the right word, without judgement. You can't get mad at this world for worshipping the Queen. Everyone in the story would literally die without her.

It's sort of a strange premise, and I'm not really sure how to categorize it, but I recommend this. It was entertaining and a setting I can honestly say I haven't read before. It comes out in May. I think. According to the spine of my copy anyway. So you should probably check this out. Or at least the book trailer, which really sealed the deal for me.

*I helps if you say this like Apu. Because that's how I said it. And then I laughed to myself. I'd share a link with you of the video by 10 seconds of searching didn't turn it up and I got lazy.

I actually read Butler's Clay's Ark before this one, but I wanted to break up the Butler posts a bit more. Also I really liked this and wanted to share sooner.

Paull, Laline. The Bees. Ecco HarperCollins, 2014.