The Bees

Laline Paull
The Bees Cover

The Bees

Ann Walker

I was intrigued when I saw this book described as "Watership Down, but with bees!" But it isn't, really.

The heroine, Flora 717, is born into the lowest caste of bees, the sanitation workers. Even though she is usually large for her caste, and therefore subject to immediate extermination, a member of the priestess caste conveniently appears, as whisks her away for an "experiment." (After finishing the book, oh yes, I understand now the political machinations involved!) Flora is allowed access to all parts of the hive, and given the opportunity to perform various functions, becoming a bit of a Mary-Sue-Bee in the process. When she becomes a forager, she is immediately the strongest and most resourceful of the foragers. When she meets the Queen, she becomes the Queen's favored companion and storyteller. When she is temporarily demoted back to sanitation worker, she is acknowledged by her coworkers as the best sanitation worker, and so they shield and protect her when she gets up to her illegal shenanigans. (Which include getting pregnant and producing eggs THREE TIMES. I'm not an expert on bee biology, but how is that even possible? I thought only - well, never mind.)

In a sense, The Bees is like Watership Down in that Flora acts as El-Ahrairah to her hive, ingeniously discovering new sources of food, warning the hive of attack, identifying the cause of sickness within the hive and rallying her sisters to eradicate it.

Though most of the prose was gratingly florid, some of it was really lovely:

The beech trees 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.

But then the mood is spoiled (for me, anyway) by this:

Flora's heart burst with love for her lost egg, and only the shadow of the crow above stopped her sobs. To die without holding it again, or breathing its sweet and tender scent - and then when it hatched -

I do have to say, though, that the conclusion was pretty thrilling, and redeemed much of the book for me. But, still - Watership Down, it wasn't.