TITLE: Keeper of the Bees
AUTHOR: Meg Kassel
RELEASES: September 4th, 2018; Entangled Teen
GENRE: Paranormal Fantasy
AGE RANGE: YA
ACQUIRED: finished copy for early review
SYNOPSIS: 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.
Last year, I was given the chance to review Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a character in it who belonged to a group called the “beekeepers”, and I was so fascinated by that character’s entire design that, when I heard this book was being released, I can’t even describe how badly I wanted to read it. I needed more from this gorgeous little world Meg has crafted!
I won’t be including any spoilers for Black Bird of the Gallows, if you haven’t read it yet, but I strongly recommend reading Black Bird of the Gallows before Keeper of the Bees.
“Some creatures are not meant to be loved.”
Not only does the story follow a new beekeeper, it’s also a bit of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which is one of the few retelling themes that I never seem to tire of. If you’re not a big fan of retellings, though, don’t worry—it definitely has its very own feel and holds its own perfectly. It’s got this wonderfully modern vibe, though Dresden’s age lends to this wonderful vintage narrative; between it and Essie’s delightful perspective on the world around her, among other details, I can honestly say I’ve never read a book quite like this one.
The curse of the beekeeper ensures that my face is rarely actually seen. It’s certainly not a face anyone would want to see.
The beekeepers are so fascinating for a number of reasons:
- Their facial features are constantly shifting between the features of people whose deaths they have caused, so nobody knows what they actually look like.
- They have bees inside of them. Like… there’s some legitimate body horror at play when Dresden describes the bees.
- The bees demand to sting people they choose, based on the person’s energy, and their venom causes the victim to gradually sink into a violent, raging madness.
“Are you planning to kill me?”
I am a monster. A beast. Lying about it would be pointless. “Yes.”
So as you can imagine, it’s pretty rotten luck when Dresden, for the first time in his many, many years, is led to a victim and feels the need to spare her. It’s deliciously angsty from the start, and I loved watching him struggle with these conflicting feelings—does he sting the strange young girl, or let her go despite a massive potential cost to himself or even the entire town? I mean, all I’m saying is that you can’t have a good paranormal fantasy story without a little angst and self-loathing, and Dresden’s got it in spades.
I’m so weary of questioning everything I see, of fighting to appear average and ordinary enough to not disturb people.
Of course, Essie’s life isn’t easy, either. She sees things that aren’t really there, and the entire town—minus her grandmother and aunt—has basically written her off as a lost cause. Treatments don’t work, nobody can find a diagnosis, and did I mention it’s referred to as the family curse? It’s such a fun twist. A caveat here: since it appears to be a mental illness, there is some ableism throughout the book, and the representation could potentially be uncomfortable for certain readers.
Maybe we’re here to give each other what the rest of the world can’t.
The story flips perspectives between Dresden and Essie, and I honestly loved them both so very much. They’re both these great, complex characters, and I found myself rooting for them from the very beginning. There is a touch of insta-love, which is usually a huge issue for me, but… I’m as shocked as you guys are to hear me say this in a review: the chemistry between these two is so good, I didn’t even mind. Just trust me on this one. ♥
And then, this singular thought: it isn’t selfish to want more than this.
Once again, Meg Kassel has blown me away with this ridiculously lovable couple, a lot of intriguing back story and suspense, and a world that is so full of Meg’s unique lore that I just couldn’t get enough. I am desperately hoping that she will write us yet another story in this world, because now that we’ve gotten to spend time with the harbingers and the beekeepers… I think it’s time the Strawmen get their book, don’t you?
Content warnings for body horror, rape, sex slavery, attempted assault, pedophilia, ableism, child abuse, alcoholism (all challenged within text).
Thank you so much to Entangled Teen for providing me with a finished copy in exchange for an honest review!