At the Willowlands estate, the Chalice is responsible for binding the land together and preventing disaster, like earthquakes. She is also responsible for helping the people of the Willowlands with their troubles, and is usually beloved by the people. Likewise, the Master also holds great responsibility for the land and the people of Willowlands. Together along with the other members of the Circle, the Master and Chalice are ultimately the peacekeepers of the land.
Lately, though, the Willowlands have been restless. The last Master and Chalice died in a fire, and had trained no successors. It is to the great surprise of Mirasol, a beekeeper, that she is the new Chalice. Without training besides what she has read in books, it is her duty to keep the Willowlands together through this time of upheaval. It will be difficult, though, as the new Master is a Priest of Fire–and his very touch burns. This isn’t the only thing that worries Mirasol, either: The Overlord, who oversees the many different estates like Willowlands, has his own ideas for the next Master. Can Mirasol hold her land together through these difficulties? Or will she fail and doom it to ripping itself apart at the seams?
Chalice was the book that set me back on a Robin McKinley phase. After finishing it, I went to the library and checked out an armload of her books. You have been warned: The next few weeks will probably be filled with reviews of her work.
That said, on the the actual review. Chalice was a lot stronger than McKinley’s Pegasus, which I recently reviewed. Mirasol is delicate, yet not enough to prevent her from doing her duty. Her gift with bees is as useful as it is strange (according to the history, a honey Chalice has never existed); personally, I think that it’s just plain cool. The Master is distant, almost to the point of discourteousness, but is it really such a surprise considering that his people fear and avoid him? Yet he, too, does his best to help the people of the Willowlands, even if he is a bit misguided at times. These two cement Chalice as a character-driven novel, and trust me, that’s a good thing.
Let me clarify: There isn’t a lack of plot (or plotting, as the case may be) in Chalice. The Overlord fills his role quite nicely as the villain quite nicely, and his scheme to place is own man in the role of Master provides enough suspense and danger to hold the story together. Add to this the suspicious circumstances surrounding the previous Master and Chalice’s deaths, and the fact that the next Master and Chalice have absolutely no training, and you have an intriguing story. Nevertheless, it is Mirasol and the Fire-priest Master (though, admittedly, mostly Mirasol) who really give the story life.
Now, for a warning: In true Robin McKinley style, the book reads like older fantasy. If you want a fast-paced thriller, this isn’t it. Her prose is gentle and poetic, and really makes for a nice experience. Still, even if you don’t like this type of writing, you might want to give Chalice a chance. You might find that it’s worth it. I certainly did.