Next up: “Chalice” by Robin McKinley
Oooh man, you guys, I cannot tell you how excited I am to reach McKinley. I absolutely LOVE her books; any time someone asks me for book recommendations there is always a couple McKinleys on the list. She doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of series, but she does have one recurring world. This book, “Chalice”, does not happen to be a part of it. This is a stand-alone.
Mira is the newly-appointed Chalice to the demesnes in which she lives. It is her job, as a part of the Master’s Circle, to hold the land and the creatures living within the demesnes together. It seems to be a supernatural talent, involving mixing a chalice (hence the name) and using the liquid as drink or for anointment.
Mira’s demesnes is in upheaval because of the sudden accidental death of the previous Chalice and the Master. She is thrust into the position without any preparation and must rely on her instinct and intelligence to guide her through her tasks. This is complicated by the fact that her new Master had to be recalled from a priesthood of Fire. Though he is not quite human anymore, he is the only one left of the family who had been Masters of the demesnes for generations. It must be him, or else a change in the bloodlines of the demesnes may through the land into chaos.
Both Mira and the new Master are attempting to complete their jobs as best they can, but neither is quite prepared, and there are many obstacles in front of them, including some of the Circle who do not believe he is right for the position of Master and conspire against him. Mira struggles to understand the not-quite-human Master, struggles to understand her duties, and struggles to hold together the Circle at a time when a schism could prove disastrous for the demesnes.
I really, really love McKinley’s style of writing, which is very narrative-heavy. It feels like an old fairy tale, almost dream-like. It’s not a style that everyone likes, but I really enjoy it, and it adds a layer of beauty to an already beautiful story.
McKinley doesn’t generally to go into very deep descriptions or explanations of the worlds she builds, tending more to introducing ideas and world building naturally as the story progresses. Partly for this reason, I wouldn’t really say her books, “Chalice” included, are light reads. You get the most out of her writing if you really pay attention as you read. There are all sorts of subtle things that go on that really deepen the story.
“Chalice” itself is a wonderful story, probably one of my favorites of McKinley’s. I could relate so hard to Mira; she’s used to a quiet life where she didn’t have to worry about much, and then she was abruptly thrust without training into politics. Eek. She’s very self-contained and though she’s not certain of many of her actions, she does the best she can and proves herself very able. She’s a great character.
There are hints of romance in the story, but nothing ever really happens. It’s not a kissing story. I wouldn’t say it suffers the lack, though. I wasn’t disappointed in any way.