Book review: “Keeper of the Bees” by Meg Kassel

Keeper of the Bees

I was provided with an e-ARC copy of “Keeper of the Bees” by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested to read this novel because I read and reviewed “Black Birds of the Gallows” last year and was interested in the sequel.

You do not have to read “Black Birds of the Gallows” to read “Keeper of the Bees”, however, some things regarding the world building are explained there in much more detail.



Synopsis

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 unravelling Dresden’s solitary life and Essie’s tormented one. Their impossible romance might even be powerful enough to unravel a centuries-old curse.

Review

Allow me to start my review by saying how lucky Meg is to have such gorgeous book covers! Her debut novel “Black Birds of the Gallows” had the most stunning cover ever and it was definitely my favourite one of 2017.

"Black Bird of the Gallows", a prequel to "Keeper of the Bees"

Just look at it. ?

“Keeper of the Bees” is beautiful too, done in the same style, obviously, but I like it slightly less, as green is not my favourite colour. But it is Meg’s favourite, it seems, so she is a very fortunate author, indeed.

Looking at the writing overall, I think that Meg’s writing has improved since the first book. “Keeper of the Bees” is better paced, and both voices of the main protagonists are well developed. The novel is written in the present tense, from the alternating POVs of Essie and Dresden. There were moments when the writing seemed a bit clunky, but I was given an ARC, and it was only to be expected, as it is in no way a finished version of the book.

There were a lot of elements of dark lore and even a murder mystery thrown into the mix to keep me interested in reading “Keeper of the Bees”, but the book is way too heavy on teen angst and romance for my taste. Perhaps, it was my instinctive dislike of a star-crossed lovers trope that kept me rolling my eyes everytime Dresden would talk about Essie.

There is a lot of internal monologues in the book – way too many for my taste. Quite a lot of exposition that could have been axed from the text also. But if you are into broody heroes that struggle with their emotions – you would enjoy “Keep of the Bees”.

When I was reading “Black Birds of the Gallows”, in which we also have a beekeeper, but a different one, and he is not as nice as Dresden, I kept imagining him as an adult. In “Keeper of the Bees” Dresden is only 18 years old, and I found it a bit confusing. Moreso, the author kept referring to both Dresden, who is 18 – or was at the time when he became a beekeeper – and Essie, who is 17, as a young man and a young woman. That created a somewhat disjointed image in my head. It is understandable that due to the nature of beekeepers and harbingers, they are way older than their physical appearance and they carry a lot of burdens. There was only one mention of Essie being homeschooled, but it was not the focus of the book at all, and it was easy to forget that it is supposed to be a YA novel.

My biggest pet peeve with this book was in the fact that Essie’s condition, the mysterious and undiagnosed mental illness that gave her vivid hallucinations and delusions, was referred to as a “curse”. It is a big part of the plot, so I am not going to explain why it is called that, but I found it incredibly unsettling.

Based on descriptions of Essie’s symptoms, she might be suffering from something akin to schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. She is seeing a therapist regularly, who is portrayed as a villain (for a good reason, as it is, once again, a part of the plot, and he is literally the only practising psychiatrist in the town); she is taking the medication that is not helping her; there are people who judge her and her family for her illness; her father is an abusive alcoholic, who makes a brief appearance, but his story arc is not resolved either; there is a threat of mental institution which is for Essie is akin to a prison which she would never leave.

Essie is lonely, she doesn’t have any friends. She lives with her aunt and her grandmother – who seems to be suffering from the same “curse” – but her life is very restricted and regulated. We are not talking about a cute Luna Lovegood or Alice in Wonderland type of dreaminess or fantasies. Whatever Essie is suffering from is brutal and painful.

There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. It is essential to have open and honest conversations about it. I am sad to say that nothing in “Keeper of the Bees” was conducive to that. I understand that “the curse” was part of the plot. There was a reason for it. However, reading about Essie suffering from something that was not her fault and be shunned and mistreated by figures of authority that were supposed to be helping her was really discouraging. It might make readers who suffer from similar illnesses feel as if nobody would ever believe them or that their condition can’t be improved or that medical professionals are evil and not to be trusted. This is how I read that plot, and I was very disappointed.

Some of the descriptions are so vivid that they might be triggering for some people too.

Somehow, my favourite character in “Keeper of the Bees” turned out to be Michael, a harbinger. He befriended Dresden, in spite of Dresden’s aloofness, and their friendship dynamic was interesting to read. (I secretly shipped them together, but, you know, this is not that type of a romance book. Alas.)

Speaking of representation: there was basically none in this book, which was disappointing. Except for one short sentence that was thrown in as a bone to appease readers like me, there was no hope for any LGBT+ rep.

(Side note: if the third book in the series is going to be about “Stitches” – can we make him gay, please?)

I have mixed feelings about “Keeper of the Bees”. I liked certain things and certain things I did not. However, it is entirely possible to enjoy a book, even when you find some part of the plot to be problematic, as long as you acknowledge the fact and start a conversation.

If you are a fan of YA paranormal books and are not triggered by aforementioned mental illness and depictions of hallucinations, check this book out.

Regardless of my opinion on the book, I am grateful to Entangled Teen for giving me an opportunity to read and review it.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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