Book Review: The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Forge Books (March 7, 2023)
Length: 384 pages
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Bees have been called the most invaluable species for the planet, not only because of the crucial role they play in pollination and maintaining biodiversity in the ecosystem, but also because the majority of crops that end up on our supermarket shelves require them to reproduce. So what would happen if they all went extinct? Julie Carrick Dalton’s dystopian novel The Last Beekeeper seeks to answer just that by imagining the economic and environmental fallout that would occur in a world without bees, resulting in the collapse of human civilization as we know it.
The story follows protagonist Sasha Severn in two separate timelines, one where she is an 11-year-old living with her scientist father on their quiet countryside farm, the other showing her at age 22, an adult just coming out of a juvenile care facility hoping to return to her childhood home. So much has changed in that time: the environmental disaster known as the Great Collapse is now in full swing, wreaking havoc on society; and Sasha’s father, Lawrence, has been in prison for the last decade, convicted of unlawfully keeping bees. Their hives at the Severn farm had been some of the last remaining in North America, but now they’re all gone, leading the media to dub Lawrence Severn “the last beekeeper.”
As we go back and forth between the two timelines, the circumstances around Dr. Severn’s arrest are gradually revealed in the past, while the present follows Sasha as she finds her way back to her family’s farm only to find that it has been taken over by a group of squatters. Only she knows the secrets her father had stashed away on the property though, and she is hoping that they will also reveal the answers to the many questions she has about the day the government came and took him away. Meanwhile, Sasha comes to an arrangement with the squatters without revealing that she is in fact the last beekeeper’s daughter, staying at the farm to look for the evidence her father had hidden. But in time, the group becomes her newfound family, and they even find work together at the newly established greenhouses as part of an initiative to feed a hungry and dying nation.
Yet lately Sasha has been worried about her own sanity. A couple times since leaving the care system, she thought she’d glimpsed a honeybee, which should be impossible since they’ve all gone extinct. But Sasha is also reluctant to tell anyone, because people who claim to see bees seem to disappear soon after. For some reason, the government doesn’t want anyone talking about the bees, and Sasha has the uncomfortable feeling that it all has to do with the work her father used to do.
Despite its bleak themes, The Last Beekeeper is actually quite a tender novel full of hope and the kindness of found families that will pull at your heartstrings. Having spent most of her life in the care of the state with other displaced children, Sasha has had to deal with the pain of her father choosing to go to prison rather than allowing evidence to come forth which might exonerate him, leaving her all alone. Now she wants to know why. For years she has longed to feel loved and valued again, and against all odds, she finds it with the squatters at the farm. All of them are survivors of the Great Collapse with a story to tell, and soon the fear and mistrust turns to care and friendship.
At the heart of The Last Beekeeper is also a mystery. Telling a story using the duo timelines format is complex enough, but telling one while having to gradually dole out the details of a puzzle is even more challenging. Dalton strikes a good balance while alternating between the perspectives of 11-year-old and 22-year-old Sasha, giving each one equal attention. Clues are cleverly planted in the past timeline which the later timeline builds upon to establish more intrigue.
Then there were the bees, the key to the book’s whole premise. In terms of exploring the far-reaching consequences of all the world’s bees dying out, it wasn’t as well fleshed out as it could be, but then again, I doubt any novel could capture the enormity of a scenario like that. Admittedly, the scope of The Last Beekeeper was relatively narrow with Dalton keeping the plot mainly focused on Sasha and those around her, showing how everyday life has been impacted by the loss of nature’s most important pollinators. The bigger hook here was always her father’s secret project, and unfortunately, between Sasha’s incomplete knowledge of his work and the vague details given of his experiments, that part of the story ultimately came across a bit confusing. That said, the disappearance of all the bees on the planet as the basis for a post-apocalyptic dystopia is still very cool.
I would recommend The Last Beekeeper if you enjoy heartfelt dystopian fiction, especially if you like strong characterization and stories that explore the lives of people living before and after the collapse of society. The fact that this was all caused by a catastrophic bee extinction simply adds an extra layer of intrigue and illustrates the tenuous relationships that exist in our planet’s ecosystems.
Oh it’s been a while since I haven’t read a book like that but why not
Definitely an outside the box read for me too, but I enjoyed it!
While I tend to approach dystopia with a certain wariness, since too-bleak scenarios are hard to face, your mention of the found-family element here sounds quite appealing.
Thanks for sharing!
Yes, it could have been much darker but I loved the found family aspect of this one so much, really added a heartwarming element to it 🙂
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I love the sound of this. And I love any story involving bees😁
I know right? Bees are such fascinating insects, it was so cool to have a dystopian written about them.
This sounds good, and that cover is great 🥰
I like the cover too, great hive imagery!
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I do like bees and dystopians, but I’m kinda getting overloaded recently with reminders that we’re totally fucked so… Glad you liked it, though!
Haha, I actually have a glass half-full way of looking at it. I read all these dreary dystopians and actually think, wow, maybe things aren’t actually that bad after all.
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I used to love dystopian but I think with the state of the planet as it is, that does not sound so far fetched and I find them too depressing these days …
I can’t read too many dystopian books all at once because of that too!
Very glad to hear this one had some hope weaved into the story. It can get depressing when everything is bleak and hopeless. Regarding the bees, it’s interesting timing as this past weekend we were hiking a state park and found they had maybe a dozen or so bee hives within one area, and in another we found lots and lots of the ground dwelling bees with their holes spotting the trail.
Interesting! I never seem to come across any wild bee hives in my travels, but see plenty of wasp nests, yellow jackets etc. What a treat to come across up to a dozen and even ground bees!
The dozen or so bee hives were actually human made ones in the state park, but the ground bees were wild. Also, this reminded me of a previous comment I made at some point in the past about an Isaac Asimov story featuring bees. At the time I couldn’t remember what it was, but I’ve now remembered and actually found an online source so you can give it a try if you have time. The story is called Potential and was published in the February 1983 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. I found at copy at the Internet Archive in their Pulp Magazine Archive. I reread it and I still very much enjoy it.
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Thank you for the link!
It has been some time since I read any dystopian fiction
I’m very picky about the ones I choose to read these days too.
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