I'd been wanting to read this book for over a year, and it seriously did not disappoint. The premise is an epic undertaking, and I'm simply astonished at how well Paull pulled it off. "The Bees" encourages comparison to George Orwell's "Animal Farm," due to the farm-animal-as-allegory angle. But it is really so much more than that; it makes you feel from the very bottom of your soul as you are born and live and die with Flora 717. Born a lowly sanitation worker but physically aberrant (read: larger and able to perform tasks her kin-sisters cannot), Flora would have been summarily executed for her "deformity" but is instead taken by Sister Sage to the Nursery, where they discover she can, amazingly, produce royal jelly for the feeding of newborns. Flora's exceptional abilities continue to push her into greater and greater roles in her Hive, until one day they threaten to destroy it all.
"The Bees" is a masterpiece of world building. I only know a little about bees, but it seems that Paull did a huge amount of research about them and their behavior, and then fleshed that all out into a fully functioning religion and worldview. It's an astonishing piece of literary and imaginative work. Then on top of that, she added wonderful writing. We are with Flora through every moment of her life, and we feel what she feels, see what she sees. The fact that she is utterly inhuman but still so easy to empathize with is a mark of a masterful writer. "The Bees" is a brilliant, genre-bending work of fiction that well deserves the praise it has received.