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Book Review: The Colonel and the Bee – Patrick Canning

“Magic is the light that guides the path to knowledge.” (p. 98)

I just finished reading The Colonel and the Bee and I’m in awe – this book is so well written I have to search for the right words to describe it. Before I start with my review, I want to thank the author, Patrick Canning, for providing me a copy of his book in exchange for an honest review.

The story revolves around Beatrix, a young acrobat from a 19th century European travel circus, whose ringleader often mistreats and whips her. Beatrix is witty and strong, and when she is forced to perform before a drunken dinner party, she makes the acquaintance of Colonel James Bacchus, a gentleman and adventurer. This night, Beatrix, called Bee, decides to flee the circus with the help of some of her fellow artists, in order to join the Colonel on his latest journey with his giant hot air balloon, the Oxford Starladder. Even though Bee is strong and self-sufficient, she is still in search of her proper place in the world, and joining the Colonel on his quest to catch an eluded criminal seems like the right thing to do at the moment. The criminal is on the hunt for the Blue Star Sphinx, a precious figurine, but he is not the only one. The world’s most dangerous treasure hunters are also after it, and so the little crew on the Ox are on for a big – and dangerous – adventure, to the most isolated island on Earth.

I feel like my description of the story doesn’t really do it justice, you have to read it and see for yourself how great the adventure truly is! So please don’t be put off by my words 😀

When I started the story, while it was still in the circus setting, it kind of reminded me of Sarah Waters’ Nights at the Circus, which is also a Victorian circus story, and of The Journey to the Center of the Earth, when the adventurous part has started. The writing style is truly amazing, but also a bit harder to get into than the usual novel – it reminded me very much of a hard to read classic – but this also proves how great it truly is! Especially the Colonel and his speech are a bit harder to read, but I got used to it after around the first third of the book, and truly started to enjoy it then. To give you an example of what I mean, here is the Colonel’s reply when he is offered coffee for free. Instead of just saying a short ‘thank you’, he replies with: “Two cups would fortify our reckless belief in human kindness.” (p. 217)

At the beginning, it was kind of hard to imagine what the hot air balloon, the Ox, really looks like, so I was grateful for the cover picture! Apparently, it is a four story balloon that holds many rooms and even its own library – so it is far from the usual hot air balloon you see gathering in the summer skies! I really liked the little crew on the Ox, the Colonel and Bee are two amazing characters, but so are their fellow travelers, Thelma and George. It was nice seeing how quickly they grew fond of each other, and how they could rely on one another throughout all the ups and downs of their journey.

Bee, of course, holds a special place in the novel. She is very young, but used to being alone, so it was very nice seeing her getting used to finding something like a family in the crew on the Ox. I was a bit anxious at the beginning to see what kind of relationship she would have with the Colonel, as he is described to be a true ladies’ man, but I was happy to see them having a more of a family relationship at the end.

The book is divided into several parts, all of which are dedicated to each new stop of their journey – they are basically travelling the world with a hot air balloon (and a purpose, of course). Seeing Bee throughout all the journey reminded me in a way of a coming of age story – even though Bee is not grown up at the end, she has gone through so much and learned a lot.

“I was no longer Beatrix the Acrobat. I was Bee, Captain of the Oxford Starladder.” (p. 245)

The journey with the Colonel made her find her proper place in the world, and even though their paths are separated for a while, they are all reunited in the end, which was very nice to see!

All in all, I really liked The Colonel and the Bee, and I recommend it to anybody who is up for a good adventure! Don’t miss out on Patrick Canning’s amazing writing – it really is one of a kind, and should not be missed. 4.5 stars from me – half a star less because it was sometimes hard to understand what the Colonel meant, but this is the book’s upside, at the same time. I really enjoyed the read!


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