THE BEES by Laline Paull


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An imaginative—though not wholly successful—debut in which a beehive is a dystopian society where obedience is essential.

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, the lowest order of bee, mute and hulking and ugly. When she cracks out of her gestation cell, she's destined to perform only one role in the hive. But high priestess Sister Sage senses something different about Flora: She can speak and reason, and Sister Sage sees a use for her mutation, reminding others that “Variation is not the same as Deformity.” Flora is brought to the nursery to tend the larvae; in another variation from the norm, royal jelly pours from her mouth to feed the babies. Soon she's promoted to Category Two, a nursery for the older grubs, where she again displays a facility beyond her lowly rank. Paull uses Flora’s unique abilities to give the reader a working knowledge of the life of a beehive, often to the detriment of character development and drama. Because she has access to the Hive Mind, she's granted access to the Queen and then serves her and reads the hive’s history in the sacred chamber. Drones pop up now and then, lazy dandies that the hive sisters service. And spiders make an ominous appearance, trading prophesies of the weather for the sacrifice of aging bees. All would be well with Flora’s progression through the ranks except that she has a dangerous secret: She has produced a baby. Though against all the rules—only the Queen can reproduce—her offspring has radical implications for the future of the hive. It's clear that Paull is using the hive as an analogy for a class-bound society, where variation is punished, but this kind of dystopian vision can only thrive when the associations to contemporary circumstances are unambiguous. Much is muddled here, primarily the reader’s connection to the heroine, who rarely transcends being a bee.

Paull deserves kudos for a daring idea, but the resulting work is burdened by a heavy dose of explication.

Pub Date: May 6th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-233115-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2014


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