Chalice might be my favorite book by Robin McKinley. I say might because, generally speaking, I really love books by Robin McKinley. Sunshine is another contender for the favorite spot and Pegasus might be too, someday, if McKinley ever get around to finishing it*. What I’m saying it, Robin McKinley is a really good author and if you have not read anything by her, you can pretty much pick any book to start with because with the notable exception of Pegasus** all her her books are self contained stories. So if you stumble across any of her books at a used book store, I recommend you buy them and read them, because seriously, such a good author.
Now, Chalice. Chalice is the story of Mirasol, who was a beekeeper and a keeper of a small woodright. Mirasol who, upon the death of the previous one, becomes Chalice, second of the Circle. A Circle rules over each demesne, each of the 12 members with different duties which keep the demesne running smoothly. The Chalice binds. The Circle, the people, the land itself. It is Chalice’s duty to make one united whole. The previous Master (first of the Circle) and Chalice died in a great, calamitous fire,*** and the common people are in shock, the earthlines running through the land weep, and the remaining members of the Circle find themselves unable to help, so Mirasol finds uniting the fractured demesne a very difficult duty.
Part of the difficulty is due to the fact that the new Master must be a blood relative of the previous Master and the only suitable person, the previous Master’s younger brother, was sent to become a priest of the Fire years ago.**** He has entered the second stage of his priesthood, where it may no longer be possible for him to live among humans, but his deep sense of duty obligates him to try. But he is a long time coming and during that time Marisol must try to hold together a demesne and a people who seem to be falling to pieces around her.
When the new Master finally arrives, his condition is shocking. Previously a light skinned brunette, his skin and hair are both now charcoal black and he can barely move like a human. He tries to preform the ceremony of welcome but has not the strength to lift the cup of welcome the Chalice offers him on his own. Mirasol helps him but glancing contact of their two hands leaves the back of her hand seared to the bone.
Can such a Master bring peace and prosperity to his land? Can Mirasol bind the fractured Circle into smooth whole? Will the Overlord’s political machinations spell disaster for the weakened demesne? Chalice is a novel of struggles, of coming to term with the past, of learning to trust the new and unknown, of learning self confidence, of duty, and of honey. It is a novel of both delightful and detestable characters, of a well built fantasy world, of slow moving plot, and delightfully descriptive writing. It is a novel well worth your time.†
*Because, to me, Pegasus does not read like the first book in a series, it reads like the first part of on unfinished book, seriously it ends on the worst cliffhanger ever.^
^It says worlds about how good Shadows is that once I started reading it I forgot to hate it because it wasn’t the much desired Pegasus continuation, but instead a totally unrelated novel that McKinley decided to write instead of the much desired Pegasus continuation.
**Nope, not bitter at all.
***Due to a flagrant disregard for duty and an inability to bind her Master to his duties, respectively.
****The younger brother of an unmarried Master should not have been sent away thus, but the two brothers (who have always been said to have been born in the wrong order, the younger much more suited to the duties and responsibilities of Masterhood) could not bear each others company.
†If you’ve spotted the tribute to Robin McKinley’s own blogging style, congratulation, you are a huge nerd and I love you.