Review: ‘The Bees’ by Laline Paull

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Stop what you’re doing. Stop reading what you’re reading. You need to go out and get yourself a copy of ‘The Bees’.

I won’t lie to you – it’s exactly what it says on the tin – it’s about bees. But what you get is an action packed thriller with the complexities of politics and social hierarchy. In a current literary market full of dystopias with female protagonists raging against oppressive regimes, Paull has found true originality in her hive setting.

The story follows the life of Flora 717, born into the lowest class of society, as she rails against the strict code of the hive that could threaten its very existence. It quickly becomes immaterial that our heroine is in fact an insect that you’ve batted away countless times in the garden. Through Paull’s descriptions and evidently extensive research into the social hierarchies of bee hives, you are immersed into their world and care for Flora just as much as you would any other complex and empathetic protagonist.

The novel undoubtedly has smacks of sci-fi and dystopia about it. This is a definite one for fans of ‘The Hunger Games’ or the ‘Divergent’ series who quest for a slightly more high brow novel. The fact that this is a first novel for Paull is nothing short of brilliant and her ambitious intentions have more than paid off. I wait with baited breath as she pens her second novel.

‘The Bees’ is a story to be devoured – undoubtedly one of the best reads this year so far.

K~

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Review: ‘The Farseer Trilogy’ by Robin Hobb

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As a self-confessed literary enthusiast (and English teacher to boot), people often ask me for book recommendations. However, as soon as the word ‘fantasy’ leaves my lips, eyes glaze over and the dreaded ‘smile and nod’ sets in as I try to convince them of the fabulous genre’s merits for all as opposed to the damaging stereotypes that it’s only for the socially awkward and hirsute.

Robin Hobb is an exceptional and well established writer, celebrated by the likes of George R. R. Martin (ooh look – an acceptable mainstream fantasy writer because HBO deemed it so) so I’m rather late to the party. The glory of this, however, is now the plethora of back catalogue that I can dive into.

The ‘Farseer Trilogy’ follows the life of young Fitz – the illegitimate child of the King-in-Waiting of the Six Duchies, who subsequently abdicates upon discovering Fitz’s existence. What follows is essentially a Bildungsroman as Fitz tries to flourish in the court as the ‘Royal Bastard’ – a role which takes him into training to be an assassin for the King, his grandfather. Carrying out his first assassination at the tender age of 14, Hobb doesn’t shy away from showing the impact of this treacherous role on the protagonist.

The Six Duchies is an accessible setting for a first time fantasy reader, reminiscent of an old England, with castles and knights aplenty. However, throughout the trilogy we see the entirety of the lands, beautifully crafted by Hobb in her descriptions long enough to paint a picture, but short enough to keep you hooked.
If what you’re looking for in a book is total escapism with adventure, action, lust and corruption, then look no further than ‘The Farseer Trilogy’ and the politics of their ruling family. Aimed more at adults, this is a great choice for your first foray into fantasy.

K~

Review: Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill

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Looking at the Stars is one of those books that fills you with equal parts dread and hope. I started reading it on a Sunday morning whilst travelling back, hungover, through the city. It was impossible to put down so I’d finished it by early evening; I was immediately and completely submersed in Amina’s story of a young girl with an intense imagination and very little else in the world.

Amina’s story starts with her waving at soldier’s who have supposedly come to liberate her and her family from a repressive regime, one that put a stop to her going to school. Despite obvious parallels with recent events in the Middle East Cotterill purposefully keeps Amina’s country vague. This was something I loved about the novel because things that seemed very familiar, such as the girls’ headscarves, weren’t tied to religion but rather to the repressive regime itself. It means that methods of exploiting power and oppression are explored rather than just negatively framing certain religions.

This book is marketed toward younger audiences but, like other good YA Fiction, is a brilliant read for anyone older as well. Amina’s journey and time at a refugee camp make for a great story in their own right but it is in how Cotterill captures the power of imagination in which the beauty of the novel truly lies. On several occasions I found myself tearing up just when Amina was telling a story and other characters reacted to it. Somehow, in a book where the characters have nothing Cotterill captures the beauty and humanity of simple storytelling.

The title of the book comes from the Oscar Wilde quote “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ And the whole book seems to explore this enigmatic declaration, and, I think, succeeds to show that in the most horrific of situations stories and dreams can save people.

It’s a beautiful book, one that I’m sure to re-read and pass around.

~ Molly