I must begin this review by extending my congratulations to this book's PR person who rejected my request for it some months ago on NetGalley. You, dear person, are brilliant at your job. I began cackling wilding on the second page when the narrator characterised the pupils of Cheltenam Ladies College and other public schools as make-up free bluestockings. A few pages later, when we encounter the quaint rural types with their quaint rural ceremonies and bee gossip obsessions, I went to check if the author was American (he isn't). To suggest this book wasn't exactly my sort of thing would be the wildest of wild understatements.
The Prophecy of Bees is narrated by Izzy, the rebellious daughter of a late business-business man who was enobled by the Blair government for his various good works. Izzy's mother, an American who really enjoys being Lady Griffin-Clark, moves herself and her daughter to Stagcote Manor in darkest Cotswoldscestershire so Izzy can have a fresh crack at her A Levels without any of the behavioural problems which marred her first attempt. But Stagcote Manor may or may not have a Dark And Terrible Secret - the yokels call it Heartbreak Hall, all who live there are cursed, and Izzy finds rural life is governed by bizarre superstitions designed to keep people safe from something nobody will fully explain.
Dun dun duuuuuuuuun.
Although this book is marketed as adult fiction, it's not really. The first 2/3rds are a mixture of light ghost story and what I call YAngst Lit: YA books in which the MC has legitimate problems presented in a desirable way (self-harm is a typical example), and which are dealt with maximum of drama and minimum of personal responsibility. YAngst Lit always has a parent figure who makes the decisions, often giving the pseudo-adult-aged MC something else to feel aggrieved about. It's the kind of thing I loved as a 12/13-year-old and a genre I mined in many a piece of exceptionally bad X Files fan fiction.
So, when she's not trying to uncover details of the supposed curse, Izzy mourns the loss of her wannabe rock-star boyfriend Cosmo and the baby her mother 'forced' her to abort, but she does so with all the emotional engagement of somebody who's missed out on the latest iphone. The abortion in particular only matters as a way to punish her mother, or when Izzy wants to feel hard done by. Izzy should be 17 (I don't think it's specified) which means she can legally leave school, get a job, and acquire a place to store as many sprogs as she cares to pop out, but she's too busy Gothing up in an attempt to embarrass her mother to consider any of these things.
The other trouble is that the voice is not that of a 17-year-old girl, especially not one as immature as Izzy, so the whine never felt deliberate. I'm all for an unlikeable, even bratty, narrators, especially ones whose personal problems have given their sense of entitlement a good inflate (see Gillian Flynn's first two novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects), but Izzy just felt thin. She was all about telling rather than showing, about how she had done X, Y, or Z, but it was never the voice of somebody who had done that. Nor did I get the sense we were supposed to doubt her validity as a narrator. It's a pacey book which sits largely on the surface: Izzy mentally makes accusations she retracts in the next paragraph so there's no time to digest it or suggestion you should question what she's doing or how accurately she's narrating it.
As far as the actual story goes ... well, that wasn't going to be my thing either. One of the reasons I dislike YA is the element of wish fulfilment you often find in it - the MC is always the most important person in the world in some crucial way - and The Prophecy of Bees suffers this bigtime. Izzy is at the centre of everything: she is the only one who can hear the scratching in the walls; she is the one who engages with the superstitions; she is the one who becomes determined to discover the truth about Stagcote. Again, it doesn't feel like a deliberate narcissism, more that the other characters aren't engaged with anything when they're off-screen. The convenience of Izzy's progress is well disguised by the excellent pacing, but I was never on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen.
It doesn't help that I grew up in the kind of small town this book is set in, complete with a t'big house and a t'Lord and t'Lady of t'Manor who hosted t'village events. A book demands a reader suspend their disbelief but for me the idea that there exists a village full of forelock tugging yokels whose every move is governed by superstitions and traditions which have existed for, oh gosh, ages, is hilarious. I understand why The Wicker Man is considered a cult classic, but that film (the original version) makes me cackle even harder than the second page of this book did. At least Summerisle was remote and Scottish and their gene pool was small. Cheltenham has a Waitrose.
I get it, really I do. In my childhood town we frequently used our free time to try and summon the devil (the internet hadn't been invented yet). I've lived a lot of places and know more local traditions than you can shake a mare's skull at, but you're either going to have the temperament to sit through 350 pages of wide-eyed women insisting the MC must drink apple juice through her nose to prevent badgers eating her feet in the night, or you're me and regard it as somewhere between derivative and entertainingly stupid. I didn't get why Izzy should believe any of it - there are lots of reasons she could have but none came through in the book.
I also had my pedantry sensors tripped more than once, particularly when Izzy arranges a funeral for a skeleton she has found. I had to research funerals last year so I can tell you with some confidence that what she organises would have been over three thousand pounds without the extra cost of her chosen coffin, payable up front. It's not mentioned how she pays for it and it matters not only because I am a pedant who makes petty complaints, but because it shows the author isn't applying real-world logic to their characters. If they aren't thinking about who their characters are and what they are able to do, even on a day-to-day basis, how am I going to take them seriously? It's not just this either, every mention of 'Lady Lindy' was a minor irritation (because she isn't and it matters, dammit).
If you have a tolerance for immature YA heroines with controlling mothers and can sit straight-faced through stuff like The Blair Witch Project, you may well enjoy this. There's huge potential for a film version which I'm confident I wouldn't like either, but I, despite the efforts of the marketing team, am really not the audience for this. It was entertaining enough and I'm not put off giving something else by this author a whirl, but due to the deeply stupid ending this one gets 1.5 stars.