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. 

Black Bird of the Gallows – Meg Kassel

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly … Sorry, I kept hearing this song each time I read the title and music does feature in the book so it’s not completely out there …

The first thing I absolutely have to address about Black Bird of the Gallows is that cover. If you want people to need to buy a book without even knowing what it’s about, then it seems like L.J. Anderson from Mayhem Cover Creations is your go to person. I simply adore the cover design and use of colour. I want a huge framed print of this cover artwork for my wall so I can constantly admire it.

Now, where was I? Oh, the book. I really enjoyed it. What was it about? The birds and the bees, but not the way you’re thinking!

Angie has had it tough, spending a large part of her upbringing living in a van or at random mens’ places with her drug addicted mother. While she’s still haunted by her past, she now lives with her father, one of the most adorably sweet fathers I’ve come across in real life or the other real life (books). She has great friends, Lacey and Deno, and her very own secret identity as Sparo, a DJ in a nightclub.

The house next door has been vacant since a tragedy made it impossible to sell. However, one day a moving truck appears and lo and behold, Angie spies (literally, through binoculars) the new cute boy moving in next door with his family. Mystery cute boy with the dark eyes isn’t what he appears to be and as Angie gets to know him, she learns he’s not quite as human as he looks, and apparently he looks really, really good.

I loved the whole premise of this story. I’m a sucker for anything mythological so naturally I was drawn in by the origin stories of the tortured harbingers and Beekeepers. I wanted to know more about them though and I definitely wanted a backstory for the Strawmen. I’d love to read something from all of their perspectives that shed more of a light on them. Plus there’s indications there are other entities/creatures/part human part something else types in this world and I want all the details about them as well.

I had two favourite characters in this book. Rafette, who we spend a considerable amount of the book running from or on the lookout for, is someone I really empathised with. I found myself seeing the story from his point of view and didn’t view him as a baddie at all. Maybe it’s partly due to the soft spot I have for bees but my heart broke for Rafette and the pain he’s endured in his life. I need to know so much more about him! And best friend Lacey … supportive, intuitive and loving, yet willing to bash her best friend over the head with a golf club if that’s what it takes to keep her safe. I loved Lacey!

Tissues Used: 0, which surprised me as I came prepared. Although my icy cold heart experienced somewhat of an earthquake, none of the cracks melted into tears.

Food craved during reading: Pancakes. Oh, they sounded so delectably droolworthy.

Something I thought would be important to remember when reading or rereading: The names and stories of those you don’t think will come back into the story. I found sections of this book to be in the ‘six degrees of separation’ category where peoples’ stories linked together like one big crow shaped jigsaw puzzle. Prepare to get halfway through the book and go ‘oh, I remember them!’

Now for the niggles:

  • A minor thing, sure, but what’s Reece’s real name?
  • The insta-love frustrated me along with the whole ‘our love is destined to be doomed and we’ll both be miserable for all of eternity or for as long as we live (whichever is applicable) so we shouldn’t be together. But first, let’s kiss some more’.
  • Reece telling Angie that he’s been in love with her since they were six. Now, this would have been worthy of an aww if not for the fact that he would’ve been about 190, give or take a few years, at that stage which kind of morphed my aww into eww!.
  • The whole thing about the big ‘event’ when loved ones are being searched for. When they all meet up at Angie’s house after being separated did Angie not wonder or bother to ask Deno if his parents were alive or dead?
  • You know the whole horror movie girl victim/heroine who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the door? I had that frustration with Angie. I kept wanting to yell at her to just leave! You can’t say she didn’t have ample warning time, yet she still managed to wind up caught up in the ‘event’ like everyone else. What use is fair warning if you don’t listen, sweetheart?

So, my rating. If I didn’t have this many niggles, the writing would’ve deserved 5 stars. The niggles and frustration I felt while I was reading would usually have made it a 3 stars but the writing was just so darn good. So I’m splitting the difference and giving this 4 stars.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC, for the opportunity to read this book. I will definitely read future books by Meg Kassel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece — and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.