The Bees by Laline Paull is an odd book and because of that it piqued my interest. Think Watership Down… only with bees. The bees are given human characteristics, but they tell a story that is distinctly bee-like. I like this kind of story. As a teenager I loved Fire Bringer and The Sight by David Clement Davies. I never read the Warriors series despite my love for cats though. All of those books and series dealt with cute or majestic, furry creatures and not sometimes scary and not-so-cute looking bees. I don’t hate bees and I appreciate their importance in the world, but I also don’t want them on me me or in my house either. Anyway, if nothing else The Bees made me appreciate bees even more.
It isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t the bees knees either (I know, I’m terrible, but I couldn’t resist). My first issue with the book is how confusing it is. Many places are mentioned within the hive, but I never had any real idea where one place was in relation to another. In the acknowledgements the author mentions that someone sketched a map of the hive for her. I would have liked to have that sketch! There is no map in the front of my book, but it would have been helpful to have one (and who doesn’t love a map).
I like how the author portrays her bees… most of the time. I had a connection to the characters, but they still felt feral and different. However, the immersion is broken sometimes during the storytelling. One moment the worker bees are cleaning the hive with their mouths and feet and the next moment they have brooms and dust pans. I would have preferred that they didn’t have human objects or at least not switched between having them and not. The passages that portray the bees more realistically feel… more real. The shifting levels of “humanity” are confusing. The story is fairly dark and serious, but that seriousness is interrupted when my mental image of the bees changes to a Disney-like depiction with them using cups and broomsticks.
The story is very fast paced, but the pace is almost too fast. It is exhausting to read at times. There is always a sense of tension and it is action packed. The breakneck pace may not be for everyone. I would have liked a little less action and a little more world and character development, but maybe there was a reason for the hollowness of the bee characters. They all look so similar that even they have problems telling each one apart so it made sense that the characters feel “faceless.” Though it is possible that isn’t the author’s intention.
It was an interesting experience. I knew very little about the life cycle of bees going into this. About halfway through I had so many questions about bees that I did some research on how they live and mature. While educational, my research kind of ruined the story for me! The book, at its core, is about the life cycle of a hive so if you know how a hive lives and dies then you will pretty much know how the story goes.