Little note: I was given a free e-copy of The Colonel and the Bee by the author, Patrick Canning. My review is my honest opinion.
When should you read this book? When you need a bit of an escape from real life.
Up, up and away
It’s been a tough couple of weeks, guys – lots of stress, travel up and down the country, missing work… so it was fortunate that a few days prior to all of that mess, The Colonel and the Bee landed in my inbox.
Stay with me while I tell you what it’s about – it might raise an eyebrow or two but persevere because it’s worth it.
It tells the story of Beatrix, an acrobat in the circus. A chance meeting links her with the Colonel, an adventurer who rides around in a magnificent hot air balloon called the Oxford Star Ladder, aka ‘The Ox’.
This time, the Colonel is on the trail of a murderous treasure-hunter, who in turn is in search of the Blue Star Sphinx, a magnificent and invaluable jewel.
Throw into the mix two rival treasure-hunting families, star-crossed lovers, a trip from Antwerp to Gibraltar and beyond, kidnappings, twin bodyguards and a sword-fight or two, and you will be approaching what ‘The Colonel and the Bee’ is.
A modern man
Let’s talk a little bit about the Colonel.
He likes women. A lot. He picks them up at various locations, takes them for a wild ride on the balloon, and then drops them off miles from home with a survival pack and a Derringer pistol.
This leads to the forming of a group called ‘the Derringer sisters’, who are out for revenge on the Colonel.
Yes, Patrick Canning has a sense of humour (anyone who would have an awards page on his biography website like this gets a round of applause from me: https://www.patrickcanningbooks.com/awards/).
But I got the sense that there was a bit of a tension between the 18th century setting and Canning’s obvious concern with speaking to a modern audience.
He has Beatrix (Bee) provide the moral compass here. Although the novel centres around Beatrix and the Colonel developing a really lovely relationship, she does need to appease the modern reader by doing a bit of disapproving internal monologue about the Colonel and his wicked ways.
Her opinion on it is never really resolved – it read to me like a nod to any readers who might find it offensive.
There are also a few little anachronisms in the text that make it read slightly oddly – at times the intention to write in an 18th century style is clear, while at others it seems quite modern.
It got in the way of the story sometimes. It sucks you in, only to have some strange turn of phrase boot you back out into the real world again.
That’s basically the only criticism I can give it, though.
A(n?) homage to the good old-fashioned adventure story
What can I say? I adored this story. And when I say I adored it, I mean that I have developed that kind of heart-warming affection for it that I have for some of my favourite childhood books.
It is lovely.
I won’t lie, my feelings about it were definitely affected by the circumstances in which it arrived, but it really was such a tonic to read in difficult times.
A complete escape that kept me gripped for the whole story but really didn’t address anything heavy, dark or unpleasant; characters that I became attached to, and a sweeping tour or Europe that felt like a grand adventure.
There’s also plenty of humour thrown in, especially between the Colonel and the fellow passengers on the Ox.
Reading about this odd little family was like pulling a comfort blanket over myself during these tricky few weeks.
Should you be in need of stepping out of reality for a few minutes, I’d highly recommend The Colonel and the Bee.
Next up, my Big Beach Reads 2018!