Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Chalice

Robin McKinley is a masterful storyteller. She is on my list of authors whose books I read as soon as they are published - I never even bother reading the reviews or even the cover flap - I just flip to the first page, full of anticipation, and start reading. And I'm never disappointed.

This YA fantasy novel is set in a fictional country in which the rulers and their circle are connected to the land in a concrete, visceral way - particularly the person who is known as the Chalice. Our heroine, Mirasol, is a beekeeper who suddenly finds herself thrust into the position as Willowlands' new Chalice after a fatal accident befalls the previous Master and Chalice. She is woefully unprepared. The previous chalice had no apprentice, and neither did the Master. She feels inadequate and ignorant, yet she somehow manages to rise to the occasion as crises present themselves.

Matters are complicated by the new Master, the previous Master's younger brother, who was sent away seven years earlier to become a Priest of Fire. Now he is barely human, and his own circle as well as the inhabitants of Willowlands find him a fearsome figure, and are unwilling to put their trust in him. Yet Mirasol, wiser than she realizes, senses in him a kind heart that, given time, might enable them to heal the land. However, the Overlord has other plans, and the apprentice Master he sends is someone she can barely stand, and she fears the land will not survive such a Master. But what is a simple beekeeper to do?

I loved the way McKinley simply throws the reader into the story - it might be confusing to those readers who must have everything explained to them immediately. But for me, as the facts and strange customes of Willowlands slowly unfolded themselves to my understanding, it echoed the confusion of Mirasol as she is thrust into such a complex, overwhelming situation. As always, the characters shine, the plot is a joy to follow, and the imagery is vivid. My only problem with the book was that it ended too soon. McKinley always keeps me wanting more. I hope she'll return to this fascinating world in future books.

Chalice by Robin McKinley (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008)

Other reviews:
Em's Bookshelf: "This is the first Robin McKinley book that I've read and I loved it. With its magical elements and its down-to-earth heroine, Chalice is one of the best fairy tales I've read this year."

12 comments:

  1. I haven't read this, not having had much luck with some of her other books, but I absolutely LOVE The Blue Sword and The Hero And The Crown.

    The Blue Sword is one of the few books I've read then flipped back to the first page and begun to read again with just as much enjoyment the second time.

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  2. I'm think you'd enjoy this one if you loved those other two. I really need to reread them - I read them years ago, when they were first published, and I remember loving them but they are fuzzy in my mind. I've never immediately reread a book like that before! I'll have to try it some time.

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  3. I've seen soon very mixed reviews of this book, so it was nice to see an enthusiastic one for a change!

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  4. I've only ever read Beauty by McKinley, although I've got several more on my TBR pile. This review convinced me I should move one or several of them up... and perhaps track down a copy of the newest one, too! :)

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  5. Nymeth - I was surprised about some of the reviews I've read. I found it compelling from beginning to end!

    Fyrefly - I have enjoyed all of McKinley's books. I hope you get to read more soon - I'll be looking forward to your reviews!

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  6. I LOVE McKinley's books! I have this one on hold at the library, just waiting for it to come in. It's been on hold for a while, so I know people are excited about it locally.

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  7. Fuzzycricket - I had to wait a while for mine to come in at the library, too. And it triggered a hold right away when I brought it back. I'm glad that she's so popular - her books sure deserve it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you get to read it!

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  8. I'm almost postive I've read one of her books when I was in middle school but recently I picked up Sunshine and although there were one or two parts I didn't really enjoy, I liked it a lot for the most part!

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  9. Ladytink - I really liked Sunshine, too! I admire the wide variety of subject matter, genre and styles that Robin McKinley is willing to tackle. She is always stretching and growing, and isn't afraid to try new things. I like that in a writer. Clearly not everything is going to work equally well for every reader, but I like it anyway!

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  10. Definitely a good one. Great review! :)

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  11. I confess that I have never read McKinley's work, but already love what you have described! I've been looking forward to discovering another author. Many thanks!

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  12. Thanks, Em!

    Mariel, you are in for a treat! But keep in mind if you aren't crazy about one of her books, do try another because they can be so different from each other. If you like rewritten fairytales, though, she has several of those that you are sure to enjoy. :-)

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