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Friday, September 14, 2018

Keeper of the Bees by Meg Kassel | review

Before I get into the review, can we talk about this cover, though?!?! *heart eyes emoji*

Keeper of the Bees by Meg Kassel
Fantasy/Magical Realism(ish), 304 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Entangled: Teen
KEEPER OF THE BEES is a tale of two teens who are both beautiful and beastly, and whose pasts are entangled in surprising and heartbreaking ways.

Dresden is cursed. His chest houses a hive of bees that he can’t stop from stinging people with psychosis-inducing venom. His face is a shifting montage of all the people who have died because of those stings. And he has been this way for centuries—since he was eighteen and magic flowed through his homeland, corrupting its people.

He follows harbingers of death, so at least his curse only affects those about to die anyway. But when he arrives in a Midwest town marked for death, he encounters Essie, a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from debilitating delusions and hallucinations. His bees want to sting her on sight. But Essie doesn’t see a monster when she looks at Dresden.

Essie is fascinated and delighted by his changing features. Risking his own life, he holds back his bees and spares her. What starts out as a simple act of mercy ends up unraveling Dresden’s solitary life and Essie’s tormented one. Their impossible romance might even be powerful enough to unravel a centuries-old curse.



Keeper of the Bees has one of the more intriguing (and by intriguing I mean, potentially really, really odd) premises of any book synopsis I’d read this year, which in Misty-world basically translates to, ‘I need to read this and see.’ I needed to know if its oddness would be carried off, or would overwhelm the story; whether it’d be a magical realist bit of amazingness, or an absolute hot mess. Fortunately, it was the former.

Keeper of the Bees starts weird and stays weird, but it is that deft, writerly weirdness that works. From nearly the first moment, I was enthralled and half in love (with the characters, the world, the history, the backstory). It at once feels like a grand, sweeping saga and a small town quirky romance: an epic told on a small scale. If you’re familiar with my tastes, you’ll know these are both things I love – anything with the words epic, saga, quirky or ‘small town’ are pretty sure to end up on my TBR (thank you, lists (and lists) of buzzwords). This didn’t disappoint on any of those levels. It does have a bit of that isolated, small town feel, and it does have the weight of centuries-spanning history at its back, and the two meld together beautifully.

Aside from the exceptionally well-done weirdness, the real strength of the story is in its characters.  Dresden, the male MC, reads like the desert in a rainstorm, coming to life again after a century of drought; he’s old and drained and colorless and harsh, until something happens to reawaken him, who he is and who he was, little by little. His interactions with others like him are by turns intriguing, creepy and sweet, and the whole thing gives a feel that there is even more backstory in the author’s mind than we are being given on the page (which – assuming enough is given on the page – is a hallmark of good writing for me; I like an author who knows her world).

The female lead, Essie, feels fresh and wholesome in the least saccharine way. It may concern people to hear a book that deals heavily with mental illness be described as “quirky,” but where her family history and her dealings with mental illness could feel exploitative or cheap, they instead feel like simply a part of her. There are oddities, there is at times almost a whimsical nature to her illness and her hallucinations, but it’s never treated as a throwaway joke, and that, I think, makes all the difference. The duality of what is actually going on and what she sees, and her struggle to distinguish the two, works really well as a device to heighten the tension, and to give it a magical realist bent, but it never feels as if that is the sole purpose of her illness. She’s not just sick-as-a-plot-point, and it’s never presented as if, she’d be really super duper grand what-a-girl… if only she weren’t so crazy. Instead, she feels fully realized and dynamic, with an interesting personality independent of the often-bizarre landscape of her mental illness.

And of course, the romance is sweet and rootforable, with the story as a whole having a tension that leaves you wondering if everything could ever possibly come out alright in the end.
Highly recommended for fans of A. S. King, Sarah Addison Allen, and those with similar lists of buzzwords to my own.


Content warning:  mental illness, self-harm, violence, assault. And lots of bees, if that’s not your thing



Disclosure: I received a copy of this from the publisher for review consideration. This does not change my thoughts or review in any way. Affiliate links are used in this post. Thanks for helping support this blog!

5 comments:

  1. Yeah, this one sounds so out there that its good that the characters had some charm that drew you in. I'm glad it was a hit. This was one from your haul that had me curious.

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    Replies
    1. As out there as it is, it doesn't seem so out there when you're reading it, which is why I categorized it as magical realism -- good magical realism pushes some boundaries, but in ways that seem strangely legit.

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  2. I think that this is something that I would like. It's going onto my very long list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you end up reading it, let me know what you think!

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  3. OoOoo...thanks, I hadn't heard of this one before! It sounds up my alley, especially as I have a current fascination with bees and bee culture.

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