Flora 717 is born into the lowest caste in the hive and a pre-determined life as a sanitation worker. But unlike her sister workers, she is large and talks, and the hive deems her a worthy experiment. Flora 717 feeds the newborn bees in the nursery and then becomes a forager, collecting nectar and pollen. During a wasp attack on the hive, Flora 717 brings one of them down and survives, and as a reward, meets the Queen in her inner sanctum and learns hive secrets. Despite her absolute love for the queen and the rules of the strict hive system, when Flora 717 lays an egg, she does not report herself.
From the priestess sister class, to the fertility police, to the mindless chants of the Queen’s religion (Accept, Obey, Serve), Flora 717 lives in a world that praises genetic purity and punishes original thought with death. The Bees has been compared to a number of powerful dystopian novels, including Watership Down, The Handmaiden’s Tale, 1984, Animal Farm, and The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, the story does not commit to a single message, which translates into a half attempted Orwellian nod, an informative fictional perspective of a bees life, and a literary piece about the powerful emotions of motherhood.
Focusing on just the dystopian message of the book, what The Bees lacks is an understanding of what makes this genre so powerful. My interpretation is thus: In a highly restricted society one individual begins to question, and in her covert investigation, she discovers a rabbit hole of corruption. An individual or societal revolution ensues, which either succeeds or fails. But the key lies in the individual’s loss of respect for something in which she once believed. Flora 717 loves and respects her Queen and the hive until the end, even when she’s breaking the law to hide her forbidden child. Flora 717 does not rise above her nature to save her fellows or create a better world; instead, she gives in to the pure emotional nature of motherhood, which only works out well because of chance.
Recommended as a literary drama for those interested in bees and the right to breed.
“In the empty lobby outside the Dance Hall she paused to scent the air from the landing board. The orchard was sweet and cool in the rising dawn, and the rain had almost stopped. The comb began to thrum as the hive awoke and the multitude of sisters began moving. Once desperate to be out on the wing, Flora no longer wanted to forage, only to be still and breather sweet wax.
The egg in her belly glowed bright inside her like a tiny sun.”