Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: The History of Bees

Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

Readers, let me just voice what everyone is thinking.

That cover.

This could potentially go down as my favorite cover of 2017. And it's even better in person, because it's textured too. Shoutout to Kelsey, who is the digital marketing manager at Touchstone, and who was totally unfazed when I told her I couldn't stop touching the cover of this book. (Hi Kelsey, and thanks for letting me be weird at you over the internet!) 

The History of Bees just came out earlier this week, so you can expect to see it popping up on shelves at your local library and bookstore soon. I can tell you the reason that it first caught my eye -- ever since I became a fan of Sherlock Holmes (at a very young age, I can assure you), I've been fascinated by beekeeping. My fascination mostly exists by proxy, because if Sherlock deems it worthy of study, then I'm interested. If you share my interest, then I highly recommend this novel. There are a few different elements of the book that I want to hit on in this review, but the first is the structure of the novel.

I read a lot of historical fiction, and most of my favorites are ones that have dual narratives, in which there's a past perspective and a present perspective that somehow tie together. The History of Bees takes that concept and pushes it further, with a third perspective representing the future.

Here's how it's laid out: 

The first narrative takes place in England in 1835. It's told from the perspective of William, a merchant and biologist who leaves his bed after a rather drawn out depressive spell when inspiration strikes. He invents a new type of beehive, one that he's sure will bring him notoriety in the biology world.

The second narrative takes place in 2007, on a bee farm in Ohio. The perspective featured is George, a stubborn beekeeper who fights to maintain his family's beekeeping traditions as modern farming threatens both his livelihood and the lives of his bees. George has a son whom he hopes will take over the farm, but his hopes falter when his son returns home from college with a different career path in mind.

The third perspective is that of a woman named Tao, who lives in China in  2098. At that time, the bees have been absent from the earth, and human pollinators work to fill the gap left at the agricultural level. Food is scarce and life is regimented, but Tao is content to work hard to provide a better life for her beloved son. That is, until her son is the victim of a mysterious accident and is taken away by the government. Tao grows suspicious of their motives and, desperate for answers, ventures into the dangerous, unregulated lands outside the city.

As I read, I found myself most interested in the present perspective. George's struggle to maintain tradition while he battled environmental decline and industrial farming was really interesting to me, and I found the relationships in his narrative to be the most fruitful in connecting me to the characters. The characters in the other two narratives weren't as well drawn but had great potential, had they been given more space to develop. In general, I felt that I could have read three totally separate novels featuring each of these narratives and enjoyed them all for separate reasons. Had that been the case, however, I would have missed out on the unique way that the three narratives tied together in the end (but I won't spoil that for you here). The book left me with a whole host of feelings -- a little bit of despair, some glimmers of hope, and alarm that the environmental issues featured in this book are real and present to our time. Even though I didn't completely connect with all of the main characters, I would still recommend this title even just for the experience of learning more about beekeeping. I found every bit of information fascinating, and every additional fact about the decline of bees devastating.

Recommended for fans of all genres, as this unique novels wraps dystopian, contemporary, and historical fiction all into one complex, interwoven story.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

Title: The History of Bees
Author: Maja Lunde
Publisher: Touchstone Books, 2017
ISBN: 1501161377
Format: Paperback ARC
Source: Touchstone Books

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