Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own and are in no way influenced by the arrangement.
A downtrodden and abused teenage acrobat, a green-thumbed philanderer, a treasure, a murderer, and a 4-storey hot air balloon; it’s a wonder in itself that Canning was able to give all this (and more) the space these larger than life aspects required. Described as Around the world in eighty-days meets The Wizard of OZ, it also – especially in its characters – reminded me of The Princess Bride but with Derringer Pistols rather than swashbuckling swords (and, thankfully, without the tedious, self-insertion editor notes).
The Colonel is the centre-point of the novel and the rag-tag group of characters who board his beloved Ox along the way, and he knows it. Bringing, quite literally, not only the colour but the flowers and fauna to proceedings, he is magnetic. In real life he would be the individual described as ‘full of it’, or ‘pompous’ but you would want to be his friend and most of his impulsiveness and self-centered tendencies would be shrugged off with a roll of the eyes and an explanation very similar to ‘well, that’s the Colonel’. There were times when the other characters – including Bee, the acrobat,– feel somewhat flat in his company, overshadowed by just how colourful he is. They are also, now and again, used to help mediate the tensions that this novel encounters once or twice along the way. Set in the 19th century, there is uncomfortable friction between the actions of an eccentric lady’s man and the modern day audience. However, as the story progresses and the collection of characters settle into themselves they begin to grow and establish their own talents and attributes. Bee especially begins to shine. Throughout the adventures they undertake we see, not only how useful an acrobat can be in a tight spot, but also her resilience and strength that allowed her to escape the circus and board the Ox in the initial chapters. In her, we get a strong, female protagonist who lays to rest my initial concerns that she would just be ‘the girl who escaped’.
If a stable of wonderfully eclectic characters was not enough, the plot is equally as imaginative with a wide range of influences, twists and turns. At points, I found myself feeling a little confused and would have appreciated a breather, but this was, at its foundation, a race – not just to claim the famous Blue Star Sphynx but also to find themselves – and I enjoyed that the pace took you along and created a real sense of urgency. Readers also have the option to put a book down, to place the bookmark and take a step back that way; I cannot blame the author for eradicating my willpower.
The Colonel and the Bee is a book that, in less than 300 pages, manages to make every aspect larger than life. Spanning the globe via a means of transport the likes of which has never been seen in reality, this self-published novel uses intrigue, inspiration, and an envy-inducing use of detail and language to paint a vivid picture and fly the reader far away from reality.
The Colonel and the Bee is Patrick Canning’s third book. You can find out about his other books, him, and his awards on his website: www.patrickcanningbooks.com.
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