I came across this book The Bees by Laline Paull during the Literary Bloghop giveaway. Deb from The Book Stop was offering it as one of her giveaways and I was intrigued by the premise as it is narrated from the point of view of Flora 717, a worker bee!
The story begins with Flora’s awakening as she becomes conscious of her surroundings and who she is and what she is capable of doing. For not all bees are born equal in The Hive. Flora is a sanitation bee, one of the lowest kin and perceived by others as the most ugly, neither are they capable of speech. Except Flora. She has characteristics that are not like her kin and is fortunate being a mutant bee that she has been allowed to live.
The majority of the bees in the hive are female, except the Drones, the only male bees and the only kin who don’t work. The bee kins have names like Clover, Sage, Thistle. They mutter a mantra ACCEPT OBEY SERVE around the more senior sisters and priestesses, they do Devotions, are punished with Kindness, communicate what they have learned on the outside in the Dance Hall, including information about the dangers of the Myriad.
“The golden fragrance drew Flora on, until to her shock she realised she had passed unscathed through the scent-gates on the staircase to the highest level of the hive.”
Their talents and work include cleaning the hive, feeding the newborns with Flow, a substance some bees are able to regurgitate, foraging to collect nectar and pollen, working in the Patisserie, grooming the Drones and tending to the Queen.
The bees possess a collective consciousness and through it they can receive information from the Hive Mind and Energy and Love from their Queen; their thoughts are able to be read by others through their antennae, unless they close them down, which Flora begins to do increasingly as she crosses boundaries and experiences thoughts she knows could endanger her life and others, should any of the kin-sisters read them.
“Flora tucked her antennae sleek down her back as she advanced her speed. Never again would she leave her channels open in the hive, for any bee to grab and read. Sister Teasel was old and could no longer work efficiently – but Flora’s wings beat with a new strength. She felt she could fly a hundred leagues to serve her hive, and the sky streamed with all the scents rising from the wet earth – including mesmerisingly delicious nectar. Flora locked onto it.”
There are threats both within the Hive and outside. The beehive is like a cult, its members know their place, their role and their boundaries, however everywhere there are risks and dangers both outside and more dangerously, within. ACCEPT, OBEY, SERVE. They live in a symbiotic relationship that ensures the safe function and progression of the hive. When something threatens that relationship, their safe haven is no longer assured.
Laline Paull has channelled an incredible and yet what read like a totally credible life and universe within a beehive, from the perspective of Flora 717. I know little about the bee world, but the environment the author creates is fascinating, intriguing and imaginative with references to monarchy, spiritual devotion, universal instinct and power. It also contains a subtle environmental reference, one that will be recognised by nature lovers everywhere, without compromising the essence of great storytelling.
Intrigued by the book, I was also interested to learn that Laline Paull was inspired by a Bronze Age Minoan Palace.
“The Cretan Minoan civilization dates from 1700BC, and was very sophisticated and sexually egalitarian, if not biased towards women. It was an inspiration for translating a real beehive into a fictional landscape.” Laline Paull
This description of the Labyrinth at Knossos, the largest of the Minoan palaces, gives you an idea of the influence on Flora’s world.
“Knossos is the largest of the Minoan palaces, and like others it is an agglomeration of rooms clustered around a long, rectangular central court. Only the ruins of its foundations have survived, but these reveal a vast interconnected complex of small corridors, staircases and private rooms containing residential quarters, workshops, administrative areas and many different cult centres.” Christopher Berg, Amazeing Art: Wonders of the Ancient World
The Bees is an utterly captivating read and a masterful feat of the imagination, Laline Paull has the reader on a knife-edge, knowing the dangers Flora 717 faces, yet her discretions feel necessary and we will her to continue, to survive and overcome all the challenges she faces.
I started it slowly and have since read others did find it is a slow start, however once into it, I could not put it down, it has been one of the best and most original reads of 2014 for me.