The Bees – Review by Aubrey

imagesAubrey just finished 8th grade and is moving on to high school. I taught him when he was but a young lad in 6th grade. Our middle school mascot is the eagle, and since he didn’t send me a photo, I went with the most UN-Aubrey-like eagle because, well, it made me laugh. Aubrey is not as fearsome or as serious as our feathered friend. Aubrey is a thoughtful, funny guy who was always willing and interested in talking to teachers. Some of you might think that’s bad, but we teachers often like that kind of thing (unless we’re rushing to set up for the next class or want to eat our lunch.) What I appreciated most was that Aubrey always had good things to say!

The Bees, by Laline Paull

Laline Paull’s The Bees follows the life of one bee, Flora 717, and her life in a hive.51t0RDBLZnL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_

In all honesty, I feel like the idea behind this book is genius. Taking a look into the lives of some of the most social animals on Earth is bound to turn up some interesting conclusions. Indeed, The Bees discusses some surprisingly human topics. Born into a strict caste system, Flora is at the bottom of the hexagon. Her class of bee, in comparison to the Nurses of Teasel or the guards of Thistle, work in Sanitation. Small, dark, and misshapen, Flora finds herself with a surprising ability for one of her kind: speech. She encounters a member of the esteemed Sage clan (who act as priestesses to the Queen), and is soon swept into the upper workings of the hive.

One aspect of the book I found most refreshing was how well-researched it was. While Paull obviously took some liberties with many parts of Flora’s world, many real bee behaviors and facts were deftly woven into the plot. From “the Queen’s Love” (pheromones), which periodically sends the entire hive into a state of bliss, to the culling of male drones, Paull made a story rich in detail. Other ideas, while not biological fact, simply work. The bees’ caste system, with groups named after flowers, is delightful while not being kitschy. The male drones, with their vanity and arrogance, are exactly what you would expect them to be. Surrounding the Queen is an influential group of priestesses, who pray to her, the Mother of the hive. True, the idea of all hives being equipped with a patisserie may seem a bit odd, but I for one was too swept up in Flora’s surroundings and epic tale to care for such discrepancies.

Further, the characters’ motives in the book are balanced, beautifully balanced. There is an internal battle throughout the book, raging inside of Flora. Should she follow the hive mind, and think like a bee, or think for herself in a way we can only say to be human? She is driven by both feelings of individuality and of wanting to fit in. Flora loves fiercely both her hive and her child. This juxtaposition brings the story together.

The beehive has hallmarks of many human institutions. The conspiracy of totalitarian government and the overtly religious fanaticism surrounding the Queen of the hive are both familiar while clearly belonging to the bees. The ideas of individuality in a society that condemns difference, and of working towards the greater good pervade both Flora’s story and the real human world.

The character of Flora is not very deeply built upon. Other than an insatiable curiosity and rebelliousness, she is a cookie cutter of all the other workers in the hive. However, this may not be such a bad thing, as it would be a more realistic representation of a bee’s mind. Further, we use Flora less as a character to relate to and more as a looking glass into the life of bees.
In conclusion, The Bees is a deftly spun novel, a gripping saga of one bee and her struggle find her place and purpose in the world.

(And might I add, the propaganda-poster-inspired cover is a plus.)

The Way of Kings – Reviewed by Alex

Alex photo

Alex, reviewer, 8th grader

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

Way of Kings cover

The Way of Kings is a high fantasy novel that follows a large cast of characters, including artists, historians, assassins, and various members of the royal family. However, it is mainly focused on Kaladin, a surgeon’s son and once-renowned military captain who has now hit rock bottom. Sold as a slave, the reader follows Kaladin as he tries to survive as a bridgeman, a person who, unarmed and unprotected, is forced to carry bridges at the frontline of battles so the military can cross chasms.

The Way of Kings is one of the rare books that has elements of so many types of novels, and yet never feels disjointed. With both wit and toilet humor, despair, war, romance, philosophy, magic, and science, The Way of Kings is one of the most all encompassing books that I’ve ever read. Despite being only the first book in a ten book series, it wrapped up many themes and issues nicely and didn’t leave on many cliffhangers.The characters are very well developed and complex, and their struggles felt so real. It also included flashbacks to the protagonist’s earlier years, which not only made him relatable to middle schoolers (like me!), but also helped people realize where he was coming from and why he felt the loathing and sadness he did. Sometimes, I would be reading it in a room full of people, and it was all I could do to not shout at some of the love-to-hate characters. Heck, I sometimes shouted anyway.

But why is The Way of Kings so good, you ask? What makes it better-than-oreos awesome? For me, it’s actually something that could make or break the book for other people: the world building. The world building is ridiculously well planned and well developed. There are different religions, races, even a different ecosystem from Earth. And it’s all explained concisely. The world is very unique, and it doesn’t follow the Tolkien-esque trope of white elves in the Medieval era. In fact, all of the characters in The Way of Kings are people of color, with the exception of one. The different kingdoms have their own unique cultures, too. If you don’t like world building though, you should probably skip this book. However, despite The Way of Kings’ massive length (1,252 pages in the US paperback edition) it doesn’t read like a long book. It isn’t tedious, and if even if it seems a bit daunting to begin with, I would  give it a shot. The action is fast-paced and interesting to read, the supporting characters are lovable and unique despite not being the main focus, and it’s really suspenseful to see how the politics play out. And the plot twists! My god, the page-turning, mind-blowing plot twists! Also, the discussion of philosophy in it is very thought-provoking and engaging. The only bone to pick I have with The Way of Kings is that one character is almost ridiculously honorable and his good morals are just sometimes unbelievably strong. However, he’s very endearing and lovable, and it’s somewhat impossible to not root for him.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has already read fantasy, whether they’ve been introduced to YA fantasy or any form of adult fantasy. It probably wouldn’t be the greatest starter to the genre, but if it sounds like it would be up your alley, go ahead! If you think you’ll like it, you probably will. However, be warned that The Way of Kings contains content that could be troubling, specifically regarding depression, suicide, and violence. If these things bother you, I would not recommend reading the book. One thing I did appreciate is that the book portrays mental illness in a very realistic way, which is something that I feel like many novels, especially fantasy novels, often don’t do. It does a very good job handling the content matter. Overall, what did I think? The Way of Kings deserves five out five shiny, golden stars. Actually, it deserves six out of five stars. It’s by far the best book I’ve read all year, and it’ll be one of my favorites in the many years to come.