Customer Review

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Different, though not entirely successful (3.5 stars), 1 May 2014
This review is from: The Bees (Hardcover)
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Firstly, this isn't really "fantasy dystopia". It's fantastical, but the book has very little in common with something like The Handmaid's Tale, which the cover compares it to (it also uses the word "innovative", which is the least appropriate word to describe any work of fiction). More than anything, "The Bees" made me think of the film "Antz", with a curious blend of biological reality and anthropomorphism. 'Fertility police' measure new bees with callipers, pollen is baked into bread, and honey is served in cups. It's extremely jarring at first, and took a while for me to ease into. The book as a whole is dazzlingly imaginative, but still at its best when sticking close to the truth, for example the descriptions of the bees gathering nectar and pollen from flowers.

My main problem with the book, however, was less the anthropomorphism and more the Mary Sue protagonist. Flora 717 is born into the lowest rank within the hive, yet through some genetic anomaly is able to perform and excel at any biological role she tries her hand at. It was just... a bit boring. There was an utter inevitability to the story. The author also appeared to alter her own world-rules sometimes; for example, when the time to hibernate for winter comes, Flora is terrified of dreaming of her transgressions and betraying herself to her entire hive, because she cannot control what she dreams. Yet, when she does join her sisters in sleep, there is no issue, and indeed it is never alluded to again. I also agree with another reviewer in that some physical aspects of the hive are poorly written, such that the reader struggles to know whether they should be imagining a completely fantastical place of light, open corridors and hallways, or dark crowded spaces (as hives must be in reality).

All this said, "The Bees" is readable, and I got through it quickly (hence why I'd give this 3.5 rather than 3 on Amazon if I could). My eyes watered during the last few pages, and after I'd finished and I saw a jar of honey sitting in my cupboard, I felt a vague sense of guilt. I also commend the author for the environmental streak in the story, in which pesticides poison and plants are lost to "green deserts".

I didn't try to extricate any deeper social meaning from "The Bees" that could be applicable to contemporary human society. Other readers have apparently tried to and lambasted the book for it, which I think is pointless. This is pure escapism; odd, and fairly satisfying.
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