For two days the hive had sung the song of the swarm.
–Soinbhe Lally - A hive for the Honey-Bee - c.1996
Thora is a newly hatched bee. The queen has just swarmed and those that are remaining in the hive are all awaiting their new queen. They continue to work and live, but their lack is always present. She, unlike most of the female worker bees, befriends some drones. They are full of their own importance. Drones do not work, they are fed when they demand it. Are groomed when they demand it. They see themselves as lords of the hive.
Thora’s friend Belle isn’t so sure. She just doesn’t see the point of drones. What use are they?
Last year I read Laline Paull’s The Bees and just after that I came across this book in our schools store at work. So I picked it up and left it onmy trolley. Only now am I getting around to reading it.
In many ways A Hive for the Honey-Bee is a very different book to The Bees, Lally’s book is aimed at children so it is a shorter story for one. It is also a simpler book. It was written before the current bee crisis was known about and so there is no sense of worry about the future in it. But I was surprised at how similar the two books were, even the names of the bees. Here the main character is Thora, in Paull’s it was Flora. Many of the same elements are covered in both books, invaders coming to steal honey, the role of the drones in bee society, the importance of the hive and the swarm above an individual bee. And both books start with the life of a bee and end with her death.
But I don’t mean to suggest that Paull copied this, just that I suppose there are only so many stories you can tell about a bee that lives in a hive when you are trying to stick to nature’s rules.
It probably isn’t really fair to either book to compare them but it is hard not to, there aren’t too many books out there told from the perspective of a worker bee. Or at least, not too many that I’m aware of, it isn’t something I’ve ever gone looking for so perhaps there are more out there?
Using bees as your central characters brings with it some problems or course, bees aren’t really individuals. Workers work til they die. Drones laze around and live off the workers until they are kicked out of the hive for the winter. Only the queen lives for any length of time and her purpose is to lay eggs. It is hard to make an engaging story out of that, but I think that Lally did a great job here. Sure, there is plenty that you could write about allegories and pointing out problems in human society, but I read it for the story. And on that level it really worked.
I’d have to say that I really enjoyed this book. And the ending was surprisingly moving despite you knowing what was coming all along. If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary I’d have to recommend this as a lovely, simple story.