Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all - daring to challenge the Queen's fertility - enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society - and lead her to unthinkable acts.
I realized as I was reading this that I don't really read books with nonhuman characters. I didn't read the Warriors series or The Secret of NIMH (I did love the movie as a kid even though it scared me) or Watership Down (which until very recently I thought was a book about the Navy). I generally stick with the humans, but one of the categories in Popsugar's challenge is to read a book with nonhuman characters. I got an email that The Bees was on sale for $1.99 so I picked it up. It looked interesting enough.
And it was. I know very little about bees and the hive mentality save for a few general things. I know there is a queen and worker bees and they collect pollen and make honey, etc. But the details that Paull gets into is quite fascinating and it's obvious she has done her homework.
The Bees is a quick read. Once I got going I was too curious to stop, but at times it was difficult to relate. Her descriptions of the hive, its layout and structure were lost on me. She spoke of the Dance Hall, the lobby, the nursery, the morgue, the patisserie, and I just couldn't picture it. My mind fluctuated between what I normally would picture those things to look like and what they could possibly look like in the a wooden (man-made) live. I've only seen the hives with the panels. It didn't make sense to me. And then it was are they like human bees? Walking around talking and walking with clothes and such? Or are they bees who talk? But they have brooms. And dustpans. I'm confused.
Maybe it's my inexperience with animal characters or my inability to be imaginative on that level, but it was a stumbling block for me. I spent a lot of time trying to understand what was happening because I couldn't picture it.
What was fascinating to me was how the hive struggles with the encroaching human world and the effects humans have on the bees way of life. It got me thinking about how humans 'steal' the honey and made me want to plant lots of flowers and put out bee drinking bowls for the bees here.
Was the story good? Yes. I had to know what was going to happen next. What were the priestesses planning? Could Flora 717 keep her secret? Does the hive survive the winter? Were the spiders telling the truth? The creepy factory during several scenes and the abruptly violent moments had me hooked.
Will I read another book about nonhumans? Um, probably not. But this one wasn't half bad.