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The Bees

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The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden...

Laline Paull's chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.

340 pages, Hardcover

First published May 6, 2014

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About the author

Laline Paull

3 books784 followers
I write books, plays and screenplays and am currently working on the theatrical adaptation of The Bees, a tv pilot, and a collection of short stories from the cutting room floor of the fascinating (and sometimes dangerous) research of my three novels.

POD is my latest novel, and I only now realise I have written a trilogy, because bees led me to pollinators led me to climate change led me to the Arctic led me to whaling led me to cetacean societies and the migration crisis in the ocean...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,948 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
April 21, 2022
The Bees is a powerful tale of what life might look like to a hive member. This is not your kids’ Bug’s Life, but a very grown-up, compelling drama that includes both sweetness and considerable sting. There are several elements that might make one think of Game of Thrones Drones. Corruption on high, battles of succession, sinister enemies, both in the hive and outside. Not only must all men die but winter is coming, twice. There is also a lot of religious reference here. This sits atop a marvelous, deep portrayal of a world that is very alien. And to top it off we are led through this journey by a character who, while far from perfect, is a very good egg, or was.

Bee life cycle

Of course Flora 717 might not have been considered a wonderful egg to those around her. She was born to the Flora caste, a group responsible for, ironically, cleaning up, a sanitation caste, essentially untouchables. But this Flora is a bit different. She is larger for one, possessed of great determination, curiosity, and a capacity for speech that is mostly suppressed among her peers. Still she is different and that is not usually allowed. The police are about to remove her (Deformity is evil. Deformity is not permitted.) when a Sage intervenes. Sages are the priestess class. Their intentions however, are not entirely holy. This Sage takes Flora under her wing, and the story is on. Sometimes it is good to spare the deviants, and experiment a little. We get to see many aspects of hive life through Flora’s five eyes, but also through her six feet, which are able to interpret vibrations in the floor, and her antennae, which she uses to sense scents and for more direct communication with other bees. That Paull can make the very alien sense environment of bees understandable to those of us with only four limbs and no antennae at all (well except for our friends in intelligence) is a triumph on its own. The Hive Mind is considered for its positive and negative aspects as well.

The author

Paull tells about the origin of the story on her web site
A beekeeper friend of mine died, far too young. In the immediate aftermath of her death, I began reading about the bees she loved so much. Very quickly, I realized I was exploring the most extraordinary ancient society that was like a hall of mirrors to our own: some things very similar, others a complete inversion, whilst more were fantastically alien and amazing. The more I read the more I wanted to find out, but when I learned about the phenomenon of the laying worker, I became incredibly excited by the huge dramatic potential of that situation.
Her feeling of loss is very much present here. Bees are not the longest lived creatures on the planet, and more than a few see their end here. But there is another element as well, from a recent interview posted here on Goodreads,
Becoming a mother changed me and made me stronger—but evolution is never easy. I didn't write Flora from an intellectual perspective but in a very visceral way: Motherhood made me a more passionate person—or allowed me to express that innate side of myself much more. So perhaps that's why Flora works as a character: There's primal truth in her motivation. She accepts her life one way, but then a forbidden force takes possession of her. Called love.

Religious nomenclature permeates the tale. The Queen is not only a temporal ruler, but is considered divine as well. This is helped along by her ability to produce pheromones in vast quantity that can soothe her hive family. There are sacraments in this world, a catechism, rituals, prayers, some of which will sound familiar. There are also some virgin births. And what would religion be without a little human sacrifice, or in this case bee sacrifice. It is a place in which religion is joined to politics to generate Orwellian mantras like Accept Obey Serve, Desire is Sin, Idleness is Sin, From Death comes Life Eternal, and the like. And, of course, there is some Orwellian behavior. Life is held cheaply, particularly for those not of the favored groups, and the jack-booted police that enforce the rules are definitely a buzzkill. The death penalty is more the norm than the exception, and it is often applied immediately and energetically.

Western honey bee

Flora’s explorations of the world are entire adventures on their own, as she encounters not only adversaries like wasps, spiders and crows, but man-made hazards as well. On the other hand she experiences the longing of the flowers, and the expanded internal horizons that result from expanding one’s horizons externally. She has a particular longing of her own, which fires the engines of her determination.

The Bees is a fast-paced, engaging, invigorating tale that will have you flipping pages faster than a forager’s wings. You will come away not only with the warm feeling of having shared a remarkable journey but will find yourself eager to learn more about our buzzy brethren, well, except for Nicolas Cage. And you might even find yourself tempted to get up and do a description
Waggle Dance

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

In Paull’s site there is a photo of a Minoan palace map that informed her hive layout. Worth a look .

This month’s (May 2014) GR newsletter features a brief interview with Paull

That buzzing in your ear might be more cause for concern that you’d realized. New project aims to upload a honey bee's brain into a flying insectobot by 2015

An item I came across on a reason why bee population is in decline - We May Have Figured Out What's Killing The Bees

A wonderful short piece in the NY Times - You’re a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like.- by Joanna Klein - December 2, 2016

Well, hello, good-looking!
A Bombus fraternus bumblebee. Sam Droege/United States Geological Survey from the above article

June 7, 2018 - A NY Times article on new research on Bee cognition - Do Bees Know Nothing? - by James Gorman

July 28, 2020 - Smithsonian Magazine - Scientists Crack the Mathematical Mystery of Stingless Bees’ Spiral Honeycombs by Theresa Machemer

Mathematically speaking, the honeycombs grow like crystals. (Tim Heard via Royal Society Publishing)
Profile Image for Delee.
243 reviews1,136 followers
April 2, 2017
People who know me even just a little- know how much I love Watership Down...so when I saw THE BEES on one of my friends GRs profile and read some reviews, one review in particular caught my attention- "Watership Down with Beeeeees" it said. I didn't have to read any further than that...

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For Flora 717- it is almost over for her as soon as her little life begins. She is not like the others in her hive- she is bigger and darker than the other bees- and being different is never allowed- Deformity is evil. Deformity is not permitted.

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...but priestess- Sister Sage- sees something unusual in Flora- yes she is darker and excessively large- but unlike the other Floras- the lowly sanitation workers of the hive- Flora 717 speaks. Sister Sage decides an experiment is in order to see if she can find a greater use for her- and places her in the nursery- to see what other tricks Flora has up her bee sleeve.

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Flora will do what ever is asked of her- Accept, Obey, Serve....but after being a nurse for a very short while- she meets The Queen Bee and is rubbing elbows with more favored bees. Flora wants more, and before long she moves up the ladder again- when the Queen grows fond of her. But the bees closest to the Queen have other ideas...and soon Flora will have to use her wit and skill to make her own way in the hive...and hide her secrets from those who would try to harm her.

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It probably comes as no surprise that I loved this book!! I originally had it rated at 4.5..because I didn't love it as much as Watership Down...but the more I thought about it- I decided that was kind of unfair- for me it is a 5-star book...and it forever changed the way I will look at beeeeeeeeeees. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

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THE BEES did remind me of a cross between Watership Down with bees and The Handmaids Tale...and although it may sound strange- as I was reading it- Flora sort of reminded me of one of my most beloved protagonists- Amber St. Clair- from another one of my favorite books- Forever Amber. If that sounds at alllllll interesting to you- you might want to pick this one up and give it try.
Profile Image for Trudi.
615 reviews1,456 followers
June 11, 2014

Bees are exceptional creatures. Their hive characterized by drama and high stakes, intelligence and a sophisticated organization that is a marvel to study and behold. For all its beauty and the tantalizing production of golden, luxurious honey, the bee life comes at a high price -- an existence propped up by slavery and the hive mind. There shall be only one Queen and no original thought. Accept. Obey. Serve. It's Orwell's 1984 in the flesh, Thought police and Big Brother included. Deformity means death and is ruthlessly stamped out in a strive for purity that rivals Hitler's attempts at Eugenics in the creation of a genetically homogenous Aryan Master race.

I was excited to read this book. I needed no convincing that bees could be the stars of their own literary masterpiece in much the same way rabbits became legend in Watership Down. Growing up one of my favorite movies was The Secret of NIMH, a movie I love to this day. I bring it up now because it did what The Bees does not, and that made all the difference for me in my level of involvement and enjoyment of this novel.

NIMH (based on this classic children's book) is an animal fantasy that anthropomorphizes rats and mice to tell a harrowing adventure tale. For me as a child, and even now as an adult, the movie strikes a perfect balance between "humanizing" the animals enough so that the drama soars, yet still allowing their animal natures and the laws of the natural world around them to shine through.

While The Bees is a beautifully written book, with scenes that are quite lovely in their composition, I felt the author lacked conviction and an overall commitment to just what kind of story she was telling. At times, the bees are very humanized. At other times, they feel alien and unknowable. This back and forth and hesitation ultimately prevented me from ever truly bonding with any of the characters. I was emotionally shut out of the story even when my reader brain was fascinated by some of the details contained therein. For that reason, the story dragged in many places.

If you have a personal curiosity of bees, the detailed portrait the author offers here of hive life may indeed appeal to you. She has done her research, and there is definitely poetry contained in some of the pages of this book and in scenes that deal with the harsh realities of the natural world and the strict laws of bee existence.

This is a book you read with your brain, not your heart.
Profile Image for Jane.
385 reviews606 followers
March 3, 2019
I'm not even sure how to review this -- it's certainly one of the strangest things I've ever read! But I really enjoyed it! I listened to the audiobook as narrated by Orlagh Cassidy, and the narration was very good.

In this story we follow Flora 717, a lowly sanitation bee, from the moment she emerges from her cell as a fully-formed bee through her life cycle. This reads a lot like some of the dystopian YA fiction that's so popular right now, as Flora 717 manages to find herself in some rather unique situations that allow her character to show us many different parts of the workings and politics of the hive.

I did find the pacing a bit weird at times. Starting as early as about the 25% mark, I was repeatedly surprised to realize I was not heading into the final stretch of this book. (I know, I know, my math/time skills suck.) It kept feeling like the story was entering climax territory, but then it just kept chuggin' along. Some bits were also a bit repetitive; alas, I suspect the life of a bee is rather repetitive ;)

Overall I really liked this book and I would recommend it to anyone who would like a different spin on the typical YA dystopian fare (with the added bonus of no romantic entanglements)!

4.5 stars for this one because I still miss it a full week later.

Badass Female Character score: 5/5 -- those bees kick some serious butt! Almost all of them. They're brutal! Don't be messing with bees!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews988 followers
September 13, 2021
Accept. Obey. Serve. Flora 717 is a survivor - large, deformed and ugly at birth, normally she should have been summarily terminated... and did I forget to mention, she is a bee!

Whether seen as allegorical or literal, the buzz (pun intended :)) around this book is very much well deserved. Are the core lives and roles in a bee-hive, portrayed in this book, correct? I don't know, but will one day probably check, but the world within our world created by Paull is hypnotically spell binding - and then to top it all off the story of a bee, Flora 717, coping and surviving, despite a lack of privilege, is so well thought out, crafted and paced. 10 out of 12, a Five Star read... now buzz off and go read this!
Profile Image for Alejandro.
1,142 reviews3,565 followers
June 3, 2014
To Bee or not to Bee...

Did your fate and role in life should be ruled by your birth heritage?

Is it advisable to question your religious beliefs?

Nowadays those are odd questions since we are living in an era where you are not longer "classified" due your ethnics and even you can choose not believing the religion of your own family.

However, this is not the case for the entire world.

Even in the 21st Century, it's clear that while there are many countries enjoying freedom to express your opinion, still there are several ones where this is only a wild dream.

That's why that stories like The Bees is still relevant and always is necessary to take on again the topic.

"Flora 717", the main character, a bee, due her birth cast, she is a member of the lowest cast in the entire hive, the Sanitation Bees, where even the skill of speak is negated by biology. However, nature finds the way to restore balance, to name a champion, and in this case, Flora 717 is a "deformity" to her cast, she can speak!, she can think! and most of all... she wants more!

Flora 717 is favored initially by a leading member of one of highest casts in the hive, considering her as an "experiment" but this was the only chance that Flora 717 needed to begin her journey to understand the entire working system established on the hive.

Normal. What's normal? It seems that the masses always are looking that everybody should be normal but... in past centuries or even in this very same era but in a different country, persons such as Stephen Hawking could be treated as a "failed deformity" and killing him barely seconds aways from his birth and humanity would be deprived of one of the best intellects ever in the history of humankind.

God created faith to unite the humanity but the man created religion to separate it. Usually people with issues against religion involve God in the struggle without realizing that the religions are managed here on Earth by imperfect and fallible human beings that sometimes they really think that they are doing the God's work and sometimes they know inside of themselves that they aren't. And what would happen when you are living in a society, in this hive, where the Queen is a holy being and even you are unable to think different?

The Bees is a powerful and dark tale showing the dangers when a government fusions state and religion in one single concept. In this scenario, when you are committing a crime, it's not only a crime... it's a mortal sin!!! So you are not only a traitor to the state but a sinner to your Queen.

After reading this book, certainly the next time that you meet a beehive, you will stare at it and wonder...
May 22, 2019
Synchronicity on honey turns out to give an insanely great read. Watership Down crossed with 1984, Forrest Gump, The Red Book and the Memoirs of a Geisha.

“Accept, Obey, and Serve.”
“Deformity is evil. Deformity is not permitted.” (c)
...kindly recall that variation is not the same as deformity. (с)
“You danced well. You have served your hive.” Lily 500 smiled at Flora. Praise end your days.Praise end your days, Flora thought back to her, and the words were sweet.
She wrapped herself in the rich perfume of the forest floor and watched until the last bee flew into the tree. Then she rested. (c)
You have wings and courage and a brain. Do not annoy me by asking permission. (c)
February 18, 2023

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I'm honestly shocked that this book isn't more popular and doesn't have higher ratings, but looking at the blurb for it, I can guess why. Some fool from marketing decided to brand it as "Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games," which is laughable. The Handmaid's Tale comparison I could see as it explores the concepts of authoritarianism, blind worship of authority by a populace intentionally made dumb by those in power, and a caste system intended to repress its people. But The Hunger Games comparison? No. A better comparison would be The Handmaid's Tale meets Watership Down, because the vehicle for this dystopian society is a beehive filled with honeybees.

Flora is a sanitation worker, the lowliest caste in the hive. But she was born with abilities that make her special, such as a fantastic sense of smell and the ability to speak, which makes her a curiosity to those in power. She's brought in to work in a nursery as an experiment and later on, is tasked with foraging. Her numerous experiences throughout the various castes of the hive end up giving her ample opportunities to not only better herself, but to question the authoritarian tenets of the hive that demand unequivocal subjugation at all times.

The world-building in this book is simply phenomenal and many of the bee behaviors in this book are rooted in fact. Some reviewers have said that the pacing can be tedious at times, and I will agree that certain passages do feel bogged down. But there's also a lot of really great passages lovingly detailing the rituals of the bees, and their day-to-day lives. Some of my favorite scenes were: the battle between the princesses, the sheer ribald machismo of the male drones and how they acted like a bunch of drunken and lascivious medieval knights, Flora's battles, the scene in the greenhouse with the spider and the venus flytrap, and so much more!

If you like books about personified animals, like Michael H. Payne's BLOOD JAGUAR, Richard Adams's WATERSHIP DOWN, and Robert C. O'Brien's MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, then I think you will love this book. It's dark and disturbing, but I've never read anything quite like it and it saddens me to think that so many people will be missing out on a great book because the preliminary reviews were people who were led to expect something different.

3.5 to 4 stars
Profile Image for Emma Blackery.
7 reviews4,239 followers
February 4, 2015
Thoroughly disappointed with this book. I was recommended this by a Waterstone's employee - and the story looked to be unique and captivating. Sadly, within a few pages, I realised that Laline Paull's writing lacked clarity, and hardly anything about the hive in which the book was set was easy to envision.

I also agree with other critics of this book - this is not merely about bees, but seems to be a poor metaphor of humanity. The bees have many kins, clearly trying to represent the classes within our society, and a religion - if you are going to write a book about humanity, USE HUMANS. It will save a lot of confusion and time-wasting.
Profile Image for Andrew.
50 reviews6 followers
March 26, 2014
I really would have rather given this book three and a half stars. Four seems a tad too strong. It was very readable, interestingly novel, but thematically confusing. I felt like I was supposed to be drawing parallels deeper than "Hey, those bees fail to adjust their social structures in the face of adversity, just like us!"
Ultimately stupid complaint: I was continually confused by seemingly fluctuating level of anthropomorphism. Often it seemed that these were simply normal bees with their experiences translated to human terms -- a bee in flight thinks about her engines and fuel levels. But then sometimes things got more human -- pollen bread is produced in the patisserie, cleaning bees have brooms and dustpans. I'm willing to assume the author had a very clear logic to all this in her head, but it didn't come across to me. Maybe if I knew more about bee behavior I would have grasped it all better.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,483 reviews7,781 followers
September 19, 2014
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

The best thing to come out of reading this book is finding the following:

The Bees is really about a beehive – where the bees have been anthropomorphized and talk and shit. Amazing that that bit of info seems to be a spoiler for some. Heck, that was the whole reason I wanted to read it - an unusual premise is a quick sell for me. What wasn’t a quick sell? The story of Flora 717 (a/k/a the horniest bee in the hive) and her unyielding desire to birth a little larvae of her own even though she was born a simple sanitation bee rather than a queen. It reminded me a bit of Agnes of God, which I know is completely whack-a-doo and more than a little on the creepy side, but the entire hive atmosphere seemed very much like a nunnery to me – especially the “Accept, Obey and Serve” mantra all the female bees must follow.

Before I get inundated with the “I didn’t get it” or “maybe I’m too stupid to be reading a literary wonder such as this” comments, I’m going to tell you to save your breath. There’s a good chance that I just didn’t get it, and I probably am too stupid for books like this. However, I feel there is a stronger chance that this book was seriously overhyped/overrated and in reality just pretty much sucked.

I’d still totally read another book about bees, though. The .gifs, they are aplenty : )

Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews159k followers
February 10, 2017
If you had told me last year that I would fall head over heels in love with a dystopian novel about bees, I would have said you were off your rocker, but gosh darn it, that’s exactly what happened! I spent a lovely couple weeks getting caught up in the amazingly intricate world of honey bees, and I loved every second of it! The story follows Flora 717, a lowly sanitation worker bee who surprisingly finds herself drawn into the inner circle of the queen bee, where she discovers a surprising number of astonishing and chilling secrets. The characters (who are all bees & other insects) are astonishingly complex and the audiobook version captures the author’s beautiful writing style perfectly. The storyline meanders at times, but it’s so gorgeous that I couldn’t complain!

–Katie McLain

from The Best Books We Read In January 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/02/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Emily B.
442 reviews440 followers
February 8, 2021
I appreciate when a book gets me excited from the very first page and that’s exactly what this did. The subject matter was fascinating and I learnt a few things about bees.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,235 followers
July 16, 2014
I enjoyed The Bees.

Flora 717 is a bad girl. She's born different than the rest of the Floras. She's bigger, darker, smarter and more talented than the rest of her clan, and this is dangerous. She even breeds and everybody knows only the Queen may breed.

This is an odd little book that fascinated me with a bunch of bee facts, and it was very interesting...

Then I came across this video that I watched more than a few times and it brought this book to mind. It holds pretty much all you need to know about bees in a stunning fashion.
Profile Image for Abby.
232 reviews47 followers
September 6, 2016
DNF on page 121/304 39% (22/06/14 to 23/06/14)

There are no spoiler tags, so read at your own peril!
1.5 “Oh, spare me- he was just a great flying wad of sperm.” stars.
Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, born to clean, born to serve. But she was born hideous and large, nothing like the other Flora's. None of the other Flora's can speak, but she can, and she wants more.

Flora 717 is far different than the other Flora sanitation workers, she can speak, she's far too large and she's a rule-breaker. But Sister Sage notices, and gets her checked out. They talk in hushed whispers until Flora is brought to the nursery and she has a strange feeling in her mouth. She's producing Flow.

I was actually incredibly excited to read about Bees, to learn their habits and how they raise their young etc. Except, I thought it would actually be bees, not some weird human-bee-hybrid-which-seems-like-a-cult book.

OK, so Flora is a deformed bee... which can perform many tasks? Like she can produce Flow, which feeds baby bees. Which- if the idea is true, is an interesting fact, but I don't think it's true because the whole book is a clusterfuck.

The whole thing seems like some weird cult, it's so freaking bizarre
‘Accept, Obey and Serve.’ The words blurted out of Flora’s mouth unbidden.
Accept, Obey and Serve, huh?

I was expecting a few differences from real bees, but it was nothing like bees! They walked, they danced, they talked (but I was expecting that), they sung, they had police, and they killed each other if they did something wrong?! Jeez.

LOL, and the male drones?
‘As you wish, madam. But it was a fine dark fellow at Congregation who stank of it, and he said it made his dronewood as hard as the twig we stand on.’

Also, they defeated a wasp... and the hive was saved? Huh? What about all her friends? And how on earth did that one wasp kill hundreds of you, huh?!
The great wasp lay dead, and so did hundreds of brave sisters closest to her, killed by the colossal heat. Many others were maimed in the fight, and outside on the landing board, fallen Thistle sisters lay dead or mutilated in the sun. The air was thick with the foul scene of the wasps and the blood of the bees, but the hive was saved.

What did I learn about bees? Nada. Nothing.

I'm not sure if the bees were supposed to represent a particular culture, but it wasn't a good representation.

There were parts which seemed like it just skipped, and I felt that she just jumped jobs too easily. I guess it was written well, but would have been far better as a short story, maybe 100 pages long. And plot holes? Yes. Lots and a lots of plot holes.

A copy of The Bees was kindly provided to me by Harper Collins, the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,414 followers
September 10, 2016
It's a bit like The Handmaid's Tale, but in a beehive!

The Bees follows the existence of Flora 717, from the moment where she emerges as a conscious being - one of the Floras, sanitation worker bees, who are among the lowest classes of bees in the Hive. Most of her kin are mute and treated as inferior by other bees, but 717 is no ordinary Flora: it is soon discovered that she can not only speak, but also produce Flow - an important nourishing substance which is feed to the larvae. But there is more to Flora 717 than to any other bee in the Hive - something which can upset the very root of society that she came to inhabit...

This book is one of the "it" books of this season, but I don't really understand why. While The Bees certainly scores a point with creating a unique, anthropomorphic setting, but at the end of the day it's just one of the many dystopian novels which are a dime a dozen these days. It' no next Animal Farm or 1984, or even the aforementioned The Handmaid's Tale. Aside from the setting and the general idea, there is just too little to distinguish The Bees from most dystopian fiction which is flooding the market every other day. Repeated slogan sound familiar - accept, obey and serve! Only the Queen may Breed! - and concepts such as the Hive Mind and the ability of some bees to read the thoughts of others are nothing more than just another version of dystopic collectivism an the presupposition of individuality. These tropes form this genre and are expected to be found in novels in the canon, but reading them without new, creative ideas wrapped around them is like eating cakes without icing - they'll soon blend into one another and become indistinguishable.

This book is compared by some reviewers to one of my favorites, Watership Down. In my opinion the comparison doesn't hold, and is unfair to both books - The Bees truly looses when compared to this novel, and I'll explain why. Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, and is a truly beautiful story which resists genre classification and escapes all labels; it can and is read both by adults and children, who derive from it equal amounts of pleasure. The same can't be said of The Bees - I'm not sure what the target audience was: is it a novel for younger adults, who are just discovering the genre and try to understand the world around them through literature? Is it a novel for seasoned readers, who look for more substance in their fiction, even if its hidden behind flash and glitter? Or is it just pure, ordinary escapism, which we read for fun or nothing else? The book oscillates between all three, but never decisively puts its foot down.

Both books contain animal characters, but only Watership Down contains characters which we love and care for. To be fair this isn't something writers who populate their books with bees can escape - a beehive is bound to be populated with hundreds of bees who just fill their roles according to the role they play in its structure, leaving almost no room for any distinctive characteristics. Which is where Watership Down truly shines - who who has ever read the book is going to forget Fiver, Hazel, Big Wig or El-Ahrairah? Even though they are all rabbits and share similar traits, they're as different as moon is from the sun. We follow Flora pretty much because we have no other choice - there is no explanation as of why she is unique among other bees, and she's written as a special bee only because she's the protagonist.
Watership Down succeeded in creating animal characters which didn't read as humans with rabbit ears - something that The Bees struggles with. At one point the bees behave like ordinary bees - act collectively and think through the Hive Mind, etc - but in another situation they break into decisively human characteristics, such as cleaning dirt with brooms and dustpans. This is a cute and appealing image, but also one which is definitely human and was and put in the novel by its very human author - something which breaks the immersion of a reader in the story, reminding him that it was indeed written by someone and it's not really happening. Imagine Hazel from Watership Down stopping in the middle of his tracks to check a message on his iPhone.

I wasn't wooed by this book as I hoped I would be, but it doesn't mean that it's a terrible book. Far from it - there are moments of genuinely poetic and beautiful writing which truly illuminate the scenes they describe. But they're few and far between, stuck in more of the same tropes and ideas that we've read so often recently, and ends up simply being passable - a C in book grades. I won't discourage you from picking it up and seeing for yourself, but do not be blinded by the hype - you might end up disappointed and wishing that you've spent your time reading something else.
Profile Image for Gergana.
227 reviews401 followers
March 26, 2016
You might like this book if:
1. You enjoy Watership Down
2. You are curious about bees and their way of life
3. You want to read something bizarre and different
4. You are looking for a book with an original dystopian society (not another Hunger Games/Divergent copycat)

The Bees is a surprisingly 1. original, 2. action-packed and 3. emotional! For the first half of the book, I kept asking myself - why do I keep reading this? It's the weirdest, most bizarre thing I've ever had my hands on and it doesn't even have a human logic to it! Seriously, the whole book is written from the perspective of a worker bee, trying to fit in a strict, fanatic society, survive the calamities that befall her hive and guard her ultimate secret -

I went into this book without knowing much about this particular insect and its way of life, but by the 60%, I had the strong, unbearable urge to watch Bee documentaries! There are some pretty good ones actually... Of course, apart from the fact that worker bees are supposed to die after they sting, the author really knows her stuff! Ok, but that's not even the point!

The world-building is amazing - the psychology and structure of a bee society is already interesting and weird enough, but add a little bit of dystopia, interaction with other species and real-life ecological issues and I cannot complain.

The character development is superb - the protagonist starts of as any other weak-minded, rule-obeying worker and she gradually becomes a strong and independent leader to her people. Her journey is truly fascinating, but I had a real problem with her being so brainwashed in the beginning.

The conclusion was epic! There is a lot of action and fights in this book (makes you feel sorry for the real bees), yet, the ending was also surprisingly emotional.

Thank you, Laline Paull, for bringing us a remarkable, highly-original and emotional story!
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
June 1, 2015
If you are a fan of Watership Down you will most likely enjoy this remarkable and highly imaginative story of the life of bees as they Accept, Obey, and Serve their Queen. With communication through dance in the hive and courage and strength, Flora 717 overcomes the challenging forces of rain, wasps, crows and the dreaded "visitation" that threaten her existence.....and forbidden secret.

While I did enjoy this interesting and informative story (with memorable prologue and epilogue) it didn't blow me away like WD, but was quite an entertaining read nonetheless.

Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,788 reviews675 followers
July 22, 2019
The world of the beehive is revealed from the perspective of one of its members.

She should have received “the Kindness” and been disposed of quickly, but Flora 717 has some unusual talents in her mutant “sanitation bee” body. That she was different was recognized immediately. “A flora may not make wax, for she is unclean; nor propolis, for she is clumsy; nor ever may she forage, for she has no taste; but only may she serve her hive by cleaning, and all may command her labor.” But this Flora can become a nursery work, a forager and more moving up and around the beehive hierarchy.

I’ve had some difficulty writing a review of The Bees, but I am NOT going to take the path suggested by the publisher and say that this is The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games. Part of my difficulty is in figuring out what type/group of reader this was meant for. Is it for science-types? Is it for the “farm to table” crowd? Is it for those who swoon over every dog or cat story? Is it an instructive tale for the YA crowd? In some ways, it works for all. Flora 717 has more adventures than that young woman Pauline ever survived. https://www.filmsite.org/peri.html

Paull’s writing is often lyrical and the reader is carried along with Flora as she experiences through smells, and sounds and her other “bee senses” what drives the hive’s efforts and protects it from harm.

"From their place in the Drones’ Arrival Hall, all the sanitation workers could hear the massed choirs of the hive singing through the carved walls. As the vocal vibrations sent the fragrance of the Queen’s Love shimmering through the membrane of the honeycomb and deep into their bodies, some of the floras made incoherent sounds of happiness, while others made rhythmic movements as if trying to dance. Flora was one of the many who stood transfixed by the blissful sense of being loved—until the divine surge began to ebb away."

Yet, this passage hints at my difficulty and dilemma. Paull often provides us with anthropomorphic descriptions. Flora cries; flora has fears; flora can talk to spiders. And then there is the thing that involves touching antennae and getting a complete data dump of the other bee’s mind.

If you aren’t thrown off by those “oddities,” you will find this an entertaining tale with some well thought out insights into the life of the behive.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews691 followers
October 22, 2014
A lowly sanitation worker bee flies to new heights as we follow a year in the life of a beehive. Everything for the hive, the bees are attuned to each other, chanting, humming and thrumming. Living by the rigid hive rules of Accept, Obey, Serve, even when it hurts. The Hive Mind. The Myriad, consisting of all those who would hurt bees - spiders, wasps, crows. The horror of too much rain, or smoke accompanied by thievery. Very different, I found it to be exceptional.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,863 followers
December 12, 2014
Lavish and unique, The Bees is a study in world-building. Laline Paull has taken a dissertation’s worth of dry facts about apian culture and transformed them into a dripping, droning, vibrating multi-caste tale of a beehive.

I nearly set aside this anthropomorphic dystopian thriller early on, because, well, it’s an anthropomorphic dystopian thriller. I did Animal Farm as a sophomore in high school; I wasn’t keen on revisiting those salad days. But Laline Paull’s gorgeous writing, and my immediate affection for Flora 717, the underdog sanitation bee (hee!) pulled me in like, oh damn, a bee to honey.

Paull’s orchard hive is enchanting. It is a castle complete, from corridors and antechambers, secret passageways and nurseries, great halls where tales are told in a furious shuffle of delicate feet and trembling antennae, and orgies of nectar unfold amidst throbbing abdomens and gaping spiracles. The Hive, presided over by the beloved Queen, thrives according to a carefully-tuned social hierarchy: from the lowliest sanitation worker and hard-working foragers to the crafty Teasel nurses, callous fertility police and prescient Sage priestesses. This is a matriarchal society—a ripe, sensual, emotive world where females are bossy, bitchy, weepy, nurturing, subservient, and often in a state of warm, sweet tumescence. Males are occasional visitors, arriving as drones in a cloud of Henry VIII bawdy revelry, flirting with bee wenches, getting sloppy-drunk and generally making a mess of things with spilled bodily fluids.

Flora 717, a preternaturally gifted sanitation bee, is our guide into the Hive Mind. Though ugly and besmirched by her low caste, she is strong, resourceful, and clever. Her gifts are noticed by a Sage priestess and Flora advances through the ranks of the hive until she becomes a forager, one of the true worker bees who leave the hive in search of nectar and pollen to feed her sisters.

Flora 717’s forays into the world beyond the hive are great fun. She runs into bewitching spiders, is lured into a sugar snare by wasps, nearly eaten by crows and sucked in by a carnivorous plant. Her fur coat is pummeled by rain, her wings nearly defeated by wind. She discovers the delights of gardens in full bloom and laments the poor cultivated plants that will never know the flower-bee communion of pollination and harvest.

Although rich in description and scene-setting, The Bees is thin of plot. For all the activity around her, Flora 717 is a singular character. Had she interacted with bees of a similar strong nature and evolving consciousness and embarked upon adventures that raised the stakes, there would have been more to this story. But she seems to be the only bee that can move among the ranks and the only one capable of independent thought. This, as well as her mysterious ability to produce eggs, the strange poison brought into the hive by hapless foragers, and the odd mythology of the six panels, are among the plot threads left dangling. After a while, the dancing and feeding and descriptions of how nectar and pollen and wax taste and smell and feel and elicit orgasmic reactions in the hive’s residents become filler prose, meant to round out where the story itself falls short.

In various reviews of The Bees I have read that this book is about racial identity, environmental degradation, a riff off Margaret Atwood’s classic deconstruction of fertility, The Handmaid’s Tale, a reflection of Hive Mind politics and the dangers of a totalitarian state, an allegorical tale of class and society. Oookaay. . . Nope. Really, it’s just about bees. A fantastical, rich, imaginative look into the life cycle of the amazing little bee and its vast community. I will never look at a bee again without wondering how far away she is from home and what messages she sends through her legs and spiracles, and the humming of her wings.

Profile Image for Cherie.
1,299 reviews111 followers
May 12, 2014
An amazing imagination and a wonderful, wonderful story!

If you ever wondered what life may be like inside of a hive of honey bees, this one is for you. Their life and death and cycle of wealth and loss are all here for everyone to discover.

Did you ever wonder what a bee sees or what she thinks as she goes about her daily life?

Flora has been blown off course on her way home from a foraging run. It is late and she has been chased by a crow. She has found a hole in a tree and is hiding. The crow cannot see where she is, but has taken up a watch for her on a branch near where she is hiding. From the book:

“Its smell was strong and bitter from the old sweat between its feathers and the red mites that ran across them. Only when the crow lowered its head into its chest did Flora clamp her wing-latches shut and press herself into the tight gap in the bark. The sense of enclosure was some comfort, and with the crow sleeping a few branches above her, Flora settled herself to watch the darkening sky and wait for death.
The beech leaves surged and shimmered in the wind. Far below, a vixen paused to stare up, then melted away. Stars burned tiny holes in the twilight and then a pale moon traced a slow silver arc through the sky…
She gazed out into the darkness, waiting. Somewhere across the scented night was her lost orchard home. She imagined it under a bright blue sky, the sweet bouquet spreading in welcome as she drew near, sun on her wings and her body loaded with nectar and pollen. She imagined her ten thousand sisters dancing for joy, Holy Mother wrapping her in Love…”

Flora 717 will be with me a long, long time, along with her sisters and Queen Mother.
September 3, 2018
Well, what a tremendously disappointing read this was! This book was deemed a close comparison to "The Handmaid's Tale." It wasn't. Not even a tiny bit. Unfortunately this book wasn't even in the same league as "The Handmaid's Tale."
Sadly for me, it was evident, that within reading the first few chapters, that this was going to be a flat read. The writing was tiresome, and failed to intrigue or captivate me. I was lead to believe this book was something fresh, and due to it being centered around a beehive, well, this encouraged me to pick it up.
Bees are absolutely fascinating creatures, and really, they are a marvel in themselves in what they do. Even though the author was good at giving out information in regards to bees and how they live, she completely failed to capture any of this marvel and wonder, and make it into a decent, engaging story. I felt like in parts, even she was confused as to what story she was aiming to tell.
I was unable to relate or bond with any of the characters, even Flora, the main character. I think this was because I had kind of given up with my emotional side even before I had reached halfway through with this book. Hence the lack of bonding with the characters, I found the story dragged in many parts.
The book had some interesting parts about bees, and the author obviously did her research. If you are looking for an interesting read about bees, but you are prepared not to be totally engaged with the story, then this might be the book for you.
Profile Image for Laura.
828 reviews257 followers
August 27, 2014
What an undertaking this author took on when writing this book. Overall, I loved this book and I loved the protagonist! But there is also a learning curve.....it's actually the voice and actions of bees! So at first it took me a while to wrap my head around the fact that everything is from the view point of a bee or bees Very unique and I couldn't help but be interested in these little creatures. I love reading something unique and this surely was unique in nature.
Profile Image for Robin.
1,449 reviews35 followers
April 12, 2014

I wasn't sure I wanted to read this as I tend to shy away from anything written from the point-of-view of anything from the animal kingdom, but once I got into this I could not put it down. Flora is an amazingly well-created character and life in the hive is absolutely riveting, and I found myself caring about Flora and her kin more than I thought possible. I now want to watch the documentary "More Than Honey" to learn about these fascinating creatures. I will never look at honey in the same way.

The publisher describes this as a cross between HUNGER GAMES and HANDMAID'S TALE, but I don't think that's an entirely accurate description as this book defies any sort of label. Read it (in May when it's released) and see if you don't agree. This is an excellent choice for book groups.

An added note from a readers' advisory POV: One of our more challenging questions comes from patrons who want a novel that will take them out of their nonfiction rut, something that helps them learn something new, and this book works well for those kinds of requests (we call them "nonfiction novels"). It also incorporates all of the appeal factors that work for just about anyone looking for a good book: stunning setting, fabulous characters (even if they are bees), intriguing story, and great writing.

So, you know it's coming don't you... It's a "honey" of a book.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,776 reviews1,777 followers
May 22, 2014
NB: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the Goodreads First Reads program, but that has not affected the content of my review.

IIIIIIIIIIIII . . . have no idea how to rate this book*. I have no idea how to talk about this book. I have no idea how to think about this book. I mean, on the one hand, I’m so glad something like this — so weird and weird and just weird — can be published. But on the other hand, I have no frame of reference for really talking about it? Other than maybe Watership Down or Animal Farm, but those books had such different agendas from this one that the comparison doesn’t really work for me.

*One of my favorite sentences from this review was left out on purpose because I felt weird posting it to GR. You can see it here if you're so inclined.

In terms of mechanics, The Bees is a very good novel. Laline Paull — a playwright who went to Oxford — is good with words. Her description — her worldbuilding, I guess you’d call it — is also very compelling and well-drawn. I was very much in that beehive every step of the way. It was also fascinating to get so deep into the inner workings of a beehive: the different types of bees, their duties, their lifespans, and habits, their fears and desires. The problem for me comes in the story that Paull chose to tell using all of those tools at her disposal. I was never quite sure what the point of it all was, and it seemed clear to me that she was trying to make a point. But I kept getting mixed messages from the text.

Our eyes into this story are Flora 717′s eyes. We follow Flora from the moment she emerges as a self-aware being, a member of the lowest caste of bees in the hive: a sanitation worker (the floras). Other bees look down on her, and most of the members of her caste are mute (and presumed dumb). But for whatever reason (ahem), Flora is quickly scooped up by a higher caste of bee when they learn she can produce Flow (Paull’s term for the substance fed to bee larvae). This establishes the pattern for the rest of Flora’s life, that due to convenient or unforeseen circumstances, Flora ends up exceeding the mandate of her caste and ‘serving time’ as many, many different types of bee. The reason why Flora is so unusual is never made clear, and the conclusion of the novel doesn’t offer any sort of thematic or metaphoric answer, either. It ended up feeling like Paull wrote Flora as special so that we as readers could visit so many different parts of the hive and experience so many different parts of bee life, which would have been impossible to do through the eyes of just one bee under normal conditions (as implied by the word ‘caste,’ bee society is strictly compartmentalized).

Okay, so this is where my mind starts to do whirligigs, because all the while Flora is having her mystical magical Mary-Sue* journey through the beehive, being stuff she’s not supposed to be (and being the best at whatever thing of the moment) and meeting the queen and reading forbidden books and foraging and laying forbidden eggs all over the place, you get the idea that we’re mean to to think Flora is righteous for doing all of these transgressive things (an idea affirmed by the ending). Like, how dare you bee society make all these bees do these things and tell them what they can an cannot be? And how dare you mind control them with the scent of the queen and not let them lay eggs? Everybody should lay eggs! Let’s all just lay some fuckin’ eggs and have a party! Except, that feeling doesn’t really have an actual basis in the text other than us rooting for Flora because she’s the protagonist. Flora herself is very Pro-Queen, Pro-Beehive. She likes her hive and never once expresses distress or unhappiness at the state of things, even as she flits from one occupation to another.

*Is it possible for a bee to be a Mary Sue? Discuss.

Part of me wants to conclude there is no intellectual or metaphorical basis for Flora’s actions, but everything else in the text, the marketing, the motto of the bees (ACCEPT, OBEY, SERVE) screams ‘DYSTOPIA’. Except, the function of a dystopia is to exaggerate and highlight social flaws, and at least in terms of effectiveness, there aren’t any flaws in bee society. The bees do all they do for survival, for actual concrete reasons. There is no discrimination going on when a bee won’t let another bee transcend its boundaries. Bee society is a function of evolution, and a highly effective (and ancient) one if my quick Google-fu is to be believed. That’s the main difference between this book and books like like Animal Farm and Watership Down — the animals in those books are vehicles for examining *human* society through a different sort of lens. The bees in this book have no such function, at least not one I could find. So maybe this is a marketing problem*, not a writing problem entirely. Especially considering the ending, which seems to imply this book was more of an exploration than a condemnation, strongly implying a focus on the cycle of death and rebirth in the natural world, and meditating on how one’s life is used up in pursuit of things far out of one’s control. Frankly, I find that a far more affecting thing to explore.

*The back cover of my ARC was entirely taken up by giant black capital letters: ACCEPT OBEY SERVE. Not something you could miss. Also, the fuckers kept comparing this book to The Hunger Games, which is SO COMPLETELY ABSURD and also WRONG (also The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a bit more appropriate), . This book has almost no similarity to the HG trilogy at all. They’re just using HG as a trap to draw people in, and those people who bite are going to be very disappointed.

After writing the bulk of this review, I did some Googling and found a couple of interviews where Laline Paull talks about the book. It might be interesting to note that the phenomenon of the laying worker is an actual thing that happens in beehives, and that it was a central source of her inspiration for the novel. Not that it helps me now. I’ve already read the book, and I don’t feel she accomplished very much in terms of exploring that concept. As noted above, it mostly just made Flora come off like a Mary Sue.

Overall, this book was fast and easy to read, highly informative about bees, and maybe worth it if you like weird and interesting things to puzzle over and dissect, but as a piece of literature, I think The Bees is too confused to be of much value. But that might just be me. Take my opinion with a grain of salt. I did after all warn you right up front that I had no idea what to do with it.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,452 reviews143 followers
February 17, 2023
Poll's "bees" are such a combination of insectology with social prose of a partly totalitarian kind with a clear hint of feminism. The place of action is a beehive, the actors and performers are bees. The main role is played by Flora 717, a cleaning bee who occupies the lowest level in the hierarchy. A certain genetic malfunction endowed her with a potential that ordinary cleaners do not possess, in the novel it is the ability to speak, although for the life of me I do not understand how it correlates with the real communication of bees, which occurs through dance and pheromones.

One way or another, but the intervention of a powerful priestess in the fate of Flora saves her from culling, instead, the mutant bee gets the opportunity to consistently master all the specializations of the hive, having been a nurse, mentor, warrior, and nectar getter.

Тайная жизнь пчел
Вместо слабых мира этого и сильных
Лишь согласное гуденье насекомых.

Не то, чтобы философские сказки с антропоморфными насекомыми были нам совсем в диковинку, Виктор Олегович тридцать лет назад написал свою "Жизнь насекомых", совершенно прекрасную лучше которой не скажешь. Что не помешало нам нежно полюбить француза Бернара Вебера с его муравьиной эпопеей,написанной примерно тогда же. Еще была немка Майя Лунде с "��челами", и вот теперь, с ними же приходит англичанка Лаллин Полл

"Пчелы" Полл - это такое соединение инсектологии с социальной прозой отчасти тоталитарного толка с явным призвуком феминизма. Место действия улей, действующие лица и исполнители пчелы. На главной роли Флора 717, пчела-уборщица, занимающая в иерархии самую низкую ступень. Некий генетический сбой наделил ее потенциалом, каким не обладают обычные уборщицы, в романе это способность говорить, хотя убей - не понимаю, как она соотносится с реальным общением пчел, которое происходит посредством танца и феромонов.

Так или иначе, но вмешательство в судьбу Флоры могущественной жрицы спасает ее от выбраковки, вместо этого пчелка-мутант получает возможность последовательно освоить все специализации улья, побыв кормилицей, наставницей, воином, добытчицей нектара. Отвращение и брезгливость, с какой представители всякой следующей касты относятся к ней сначала, сменяются всеобщей любовью и высокой оценкой ее качеств, а близкое знакомство с трутнями, кроме прочего, делает фертильной. Хотя в отличие от Королевы, откладывающей тысячи яиц, Флора отложит за жизнь всего три. Но каких! Из двух получаются прелестные трутни, получились бы, если бы первый не погиб от когтей полиции фертильности, ибо только королева имеет право откладывать яйца, а второго погубил визит пасечника. Зато уж третье яйцо... но тсс, не будем раскрывать всех секретов.

С точки зрения биологии чушь полнейшая, хотя соглашусь, дает представление о строгой кастовой системе, отделяющей матку от трутня и скромной рабочей пчелы, а естественность убийства своих и жесткость сосуществования в улье - все это впрямь превращает жизнь пчел в подобие кошмара-антиутопии. Лаллин Полл узнала эти подробности от подруги-пчеловода, позже умершей от рака, ее памяти писательница и посвятила свой дебютный роман.

Принцип "Смиряться, подчиняться и служить", самоотверженность в работе на благо коллектива и готовность к самопожертвованию ради выживания улья - на самом деле скорее симпатичные, чем наполняющие ужасом перед тоталитарной системой черты романа. И пара вечеров занятного чтения.
Profile Image for Jo Ann .
316 reviews103 followers
June 4, 2014

Accept * Obey * Serve

Author Laline Paull has taken the world of the Honey Bee and turned it into a top notch scifi-fantasy novel. As a lover of dystopian stories this tale appealed quite strongly too me. Imagine a society run entirely by women. Paull brilliantly tells the story of Flora 717 a female worker bee born into the lowest caste of her society a sanitation cleaner, but something is different about Flora. She will prove to the rest of the hive her courage and resolve to save her people. The Bees is a fantastic blend of nature and fantasy. I found myself visualizing the characters morphing from bees to human and back to bees again. Its a pretty good fairytale for adults. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
548 reviews106 followers
March 14, 2019
I've been dragging my feet about reviewing this one because I loved this book,

Killer Bees: "Camera's over there, Elliott." SNL season 1, January 10, 1976

but really hadn't expected to. This is a wonderful mash-up of science writing and court intrigue, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it in an evening.

Flora 717 is our protagonist, and she's the lowest of the low-status worker bees: a sanitation worker. She knows where she belongs and what she's supposed to do every minute of the day. If she falters for an instant, the biochemical signals encoded in the hive pathways set her straight immediately. (Orwellian, no?)

But strange developments in the hive propel Flora to a promotion to caregiver in the queen's nursery. Someone has committed treason against the hive's queen by laying nonroyal eggs, a threat to hive unity that can't be tolerated. A savvy, loyal politico-bee, Sister Sage, is hot on the trail of the unknown egg-laying rebel. Sister Sage establishes clever Flora as a spy in the nursery, and the plot just zooms along from there.

The writing is self-assured and irony packed. The science holds up almost flawlessly, which is part of the fun. For example, betcha knew already that male bees (drones) die after mating with the queen. But in author Laline Paull's hive, a badass queen will continue to wear the drone's snapped-off organ as a souvenir of a really good time.

Lots of other details in the book are less racy, but just as witty and ironic. Give it a try: you may turn out to be as big a fan as I am.

Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction Nominee, 2015
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