Black Bird of the Gallows #2: Keeper of the Bees – Meg Kassel

I need all of the stars for this one but it feels more appropriate to say it like this: 💛🐝🖤🐝💛

I was initially denied early access to this book and I completely understood why. This is the type of book I’m supposed to want to avoid. The love between this girl and (sort of) boy is insta and as sweet as honey (sorry, I had to go there) so it makes perfect sense that a romantiphobe should steer clear. So why did I beg for it? Because I should have wanted to stay far, far away from its companion, Black Bird of the Gallows and I really enjoyed that, so I just knew this would be the book for me, despite everything that screamed otherwise.

What attracted me to Black Bird of the Gallows was intense insta cover love and I was quite shocked when I also loved the story. This time around, while another gorgeous cover drew me to it, my memory of being drawn into Angie and Reece’s story (and love) gave me the confidence that Keeper of the Bees was for me. However, I didn’t expect to love this one more!

Our main characters, Essie and Dresden, are both damaged, victims of cursed lives. People either don’t even notice them at all or steer clear of them. They’re desperately lonely outcasts. Essie experiences a reality that ‘normal’ people don’t and her hallucinations cause people to fear her. Dresden is a beekeeper, feeding off peoples’ fear and condemned to wear the features of the victims of his curse. Their instalove appears doomed from the get go and although this goes against my very being to say this, I was hoping their love would find a way from their introduction.

There’s something about the agony of the person they once were fighting against what their curses have transformed them into that I really connected to. Essie’s struggle to distinguish the boundaries between the reality she sees and the reality others see was heart-wrenching. The struggle of a beekeeper, being bound to an existence where over the course of centuries you’re witnessing the worst humanity has to offer with no hope in sight, no known end to your pain or isolation, broke me.

While the curses of the harbingers, beekeepers and their mythology are explored in both books, the focus is different in each book. In Black Bird of the Gallows one of the main characters is a harbinger of death, whereas in this book it’s a beekeeper. I always love learning the mythology in characters’ worlds and adore the mythology of this series. Once again Meg Kassel’s writing is gorgeous and intoxicating. While the world of Black Bird mesmerised me, Keeper of the Bees made me a believer and I need more!

I was delighted by Dresden’s unorthodox friendship with Michael, one of the harbingers, and I loved Stitches. Now I definitely need a companion book where a Strawman is the focus as I have to know more about these mysterious beings.

Essie’s aunt was my favourite entirely human character; her ability to see beneath the curse to the girl Essie truly was made me love her and want her in my life. I know what it’s like for people to see a label or what’s on the surface and to fear or resist getting to know what lies beneath so the insights into the complexities of people, the light and the dark, captivated me.

While this book could be characterised as a romance it’s so much more and it’s the so much more that had me hooked. There’s the exploration of mental illness, the murder mystery, the growing unease of an impending catastrophe, the impact of our past on our present and the underlying hope of overcoming that which seems impossible.

As this is a companion, not a sequel, you could read this book first but I’d highly recommend you read both because they’re just so good! Also, if you read Black Bird of the Gallows first you’ll be rewarded with a ‘where are they now?’ segment, a fleshing out of the mythology and an appreciation of just how remarkable Essie and Dresden’s love is, along with Dresden and Michael’s friendship, in this book.

I am going to provide content warnings for child abuse and neglect, paedophilia, attempted sexual assault, alcoholism, suicide, family violence and inappropriate treatment of people affected by suspected mental illness. I personally felt these issues were all dealt with well and in context with the overall storyline but don’t want to presume that because I wasn’t affected by any potential triggers that others won’t be.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Keeper of the Bees is a tale of two teens who are both beautiful and beastly, and whose pasts are entangled in surprising and heartbreaking ways.

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. 

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