The Bees is a difficult book to describe. My best attempt is that it is a dystopian fiction in the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale but with bees – so based on true events…for bees.
Flora is a worker bee of the lowest order. Her kin are worthy only of cleaning the hive and don’t even have the ability to speak. However, Flora different. Larger, darker and able to talk, she has hidden talents. Talents that she must keep hidden in order to survive the totalitarian society. Her love, her loyalty and her life must belong to the Queen and the Queen alone. She serves the hive for the greater good of the Queen… or so she believes. A deep, and forbidden, maternal instinct takes her over and turns her core belief – to accept, obey, serve – upside down.
Her abilities are recognised by a higher ranking priestess bee and Flora is allowed to be elevated above her station, allowing the reader a look into all elements of bee society. We see the devoted nursery workers feeding the hundreds of grubs, the most devout attending the queen, the subservient glorying in the almighty maleness of the drone bees, the fearless defenders of the hive battling invading wasps, the bold foragers facing an ever ending onslaught of dangers and arriving home to the dancehall to tell of their successes. Flora does it all and more.
The Bees is more than about bees, however. Yes, it does address the many and varied dangers that they face but it also explores some very human issues. Race and class are at the heart of the story alongside politics and theology. It’s an ambitious novel but an incredibly successful one. I really recommend this for fans of dystopian novels. It honestly has everything you would want from this genre but from a completely new and unique perspective. It’s definitely a contender for my book of the year.