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Sins of the Bees

A Novel

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Sins of the Bees blends the majesty and mystery of Where the Crawdads Sing with the character explorations of The Girls to present the lives of two very different women and their tumultuous interactions with a dangerous doomsday cult.

Other than her bonsai trees, twenty-year-old arborist Silvania August Moonbeam Merigal is alone in the world. After first her mother dies and then her grandfather—the man who raised her and the last of her family—Silva suffers a sexual assault and becomes pregnant. Then, ready to end her own life, she discovers evidence of a long-lost artist grandmother, Isabelle.

Desperate to remake a family for herself, Silva leaves her island home on the Puget Sound and traces her grandmother’s path to first a hippie beekeeper named Nick Larkins, and then to a religious, anti-government, Y2K cult embedded deep in the wilds of Hells Canyon. Len Dietz is the charismatic leader of the Almost Paradise compound, a place full of violence and drama: impregnated child brides called the Twelve Maidens, an armed occupation of a visitor’s center, shot-up mountain sheep washing up along with a half-drowned dog, and men transporting weapons in the middle of the night.

As Isabelle paints portraits of Len Dietz and the Twelve Maidens ceremonially progressing toward their group marriage on the prophesized end of the world—January 1, 2000, the new millennium—Silva moves ever closer to finding her grandmother in Hells Canyon and finds herself drawn Nick, whose life is also irrevocably tied to Len Dietz.

As tensions erupt into violence, Silva, Isabelle, Nick, and the members of Almost Paradise find themselves disastrously entangled. And like the ancient bonsai struggling to navigate territories both new and old, Silva is forced to face both her own history of loss, and the history of loss she’s stepped into: ruinous stories of family that threaten to destroy them all.

Annie Lampman has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction and is a professor of honors creative writing at the Washington State University Honors College. She has been awarded a 2020 Literature Fellowship Special Mention by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, a Best American Essays “Notable,” a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, the Dogwood Literary Award in Fiction, the Everybody Writes Award in Poetry, and a Bureau of Land Management national wilderness artist’s residency in the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness. She lives in Moscow, Idaho, and for decades has backpacked into the depths of Hells Canyon.

Sins of the Bees is a fascinating glimpse into the world of a paranoid doomsday cult, with echoes of The Handmaid's Tale—though this isn't science fiction. This heartfelt contemporary literary thriller brings together multiple timelines into a compelling whole, with elements of romance, suspense, and mystery intertwining. Annie Lampman is clearly a writer to watch.”

– Dan Chaon, National Book Award finalist

“Lush and sweeping in its language and its landscape, Sins of the Bees takes us to the heart of human need—for love, for family, for a reason to stay alive. Moving between the verdant Pacific Coast and the arid breaks of Hells Canyon, from the artist's reflective sensibility to the survivalist's absolute desire to own and control the people around him, Lampman weaves a story of destiny and desperation that pitches one woman's quest for paradise against the violent will of a man bent on domination and destruction.”

– Kim Barnes, Pulitzer Prize Finalist

“With stunning, poetic language, Lampman weaves a remarkable novel full of wisdom and hope. It’s a contemporary cautionary tale that speaks to the dangers and devastation wrought by powerful, charismatic men—and to the women who resurrect themselves by rejecting and repudiating them. And at the story’s core is a deep search for family connection. A marvelous, metaphorical and profound debut.”

– Buddy Levy, bestselling author of 'Labyrinth of Ice'

Sins of the Bees echoes the work of writers like Annie Proulx and Rick Bass in its portrayal of memory-haunted folks inextricably bound to the harsh and beautiful land.”

– Daniel Orozco, Whiting Award recipient, former Stegner Fellow, and author of Orientation and Other Stories

“More than a human melodrama, Lampman uses everything she knows from backpacking into the land around Idaho’s Snake River and Hell’s Canyon to add realism to her tale of love and loss. In fact, this is both a naturalist’s guide to the sunbaked sections of the Pacific northwest—the plants and animals that live there (including bees and bonsai trees)—and a literary thriller of a romance that keeps the reader hanging on to the epilogue. Brava, Ms. Lampman!” 

– Mitch Silver, author of The Apollo Deception

“Compelling and deeply affecting, Sins of the Bees is a literary thriller about two women’s search for identity and their struggle to feel grounded and loved; to belong. I felt submerged in the lyrical writing, swept away by the undertows of desire, desperation, loss, and redemption. Annie Lampman’s debut is a stunner.” 

– Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author of Every Now and Then

Sins of the Bees is a breathtaking, multi-layered meditation on love and loss, family and faith. With an urgency befitting our times, Lampman exposes the devastating price we pay when we empower cunning, amoral leaders. An ambitious debut that pits the family we're born into against the one we choose for ourselves.”

– Marco Rafalà, author of How Fires End

“With exquisite prose, Lampman’s Sins of the Bees weaves the brutality and beauty of nature, the depths of loss and the grief of love, and the twisted beliefs of a religious cult into an edge of your seat literary thriller.”

– Kim Taylor Blakemore, author of The Companion and After Alice Fell

“Grief in the green bounty, passion in the deep desert, the regrets of our ancestors coursing in our veins—Sins of the Bees is about the ways we in the American West try and fail, and yet might keep trying, to be in more sustaining relationship with ourselves, one another, and all the land that holds us. The writing here is breathtaking, as is the vision. This is a striking debut.”

– Joe Wilkins, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and The Mountain and the Fathers

Sins of the Bees is a complex and beautifully written family saga about loss, tragedy, and redemption set against the unsettling confines of a cult in rural Idaho. Silva and Isabelle are unforgettable protagonists questing for meaning, belonging, and family. Annie Lampman’s gorgeous, astonishing debut kept me up way too late at night!”

– Mary Pauline Lowry, author of The Roxy Letters