Home > Guest Book Review > Guest Book Review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Guest Book Review: Chalice by Robin McKinley

Please give a warm welcome to my first guest book review participant, Chellie!

Meet the Guest!
My name is Michelle Oleson, and I’m currently the Web/Digital Services Librarian at an academic library.  During a normal day, I coax printers into working properly, manage the library’s website content, help students find articles/books/staplers, and read a lot of blogs/tweetage.  Outside work, I travel near and far, and enjoy keeping up my mediocre skills at playing flute, Latin, and online gaming.

Robin McKinley’s short novel Chalice follows McKinley’s other novels on the Beauty and the Beast theme.  Mirasol, a solitary twenty-something, bee-keeping enthusiast, finds herself out her depth as the newly appointed Chalice of her demesne (feudal styled village).  The previous Master and Chalice both died under tragic and mysterious circumstances leaving the Willowlands demesne in both political and spiritual chaos.  Mirasol must find a balance in her old and new life, in addition to solving the mystery of the Old Master and Chalice’s demise if she’s to successfully serve the new Master: an enigma in and of himself.

Much of this short novel is devoted to describing an overly complex feudal system with a Druid-esque relationship to land.  The story itself could have been concluded inside of 30 pages.

Mirasol leads the narration and all of the movement within the story.  While she represents a strong female character (like any Belle), she also lets herself be caught up in forces deemed beyond her control.  Fans of Hermione Granger will love her proclivity to spend most days holed away in the library trying to teach herself all the laws and mysticism of being the Chalice.

Mirasol spends most of her internal dialogue puzzling over the new Master.  Like any good feudal system, the old Master died leaving an elder son and a younger son.  The elder son, being a spoiled brat drunk with power, sends his brother off never to be heard from again.  Lucky for the demesne, the older brother manages to get himself killed before completely destroying his people.  The leaders of the village have a tough choice to make: bring in an outsider to rule or try to restore the younger brother.

The younger brother has been living his life as a monk in service to Fire Elementals.  He returns to lead his people as something of a Fire Element himself.  His first act as Master is to burn Chalice/Mirasol to the bone by barely touching her.

Then nothing happens for a long time while Mirasol goes to the library, thinks about how awesome her bees and honey are, how neat being a Chalice is, and wouldn’t the new Master be just dreamy if he was anything at all resembling human.  She has two or three conversations with the Master concerning how the land is holding up under all the strain of political upheaval.  Neither of them thinks they’re doing a very good job, but hey, at least we’re not getting drunk and dying horribly in a fire…

At some point the higher ups of the realm decide having a Fire Elemental as Master of a demesne is a Bad Plan.  These interlopers are only Bad Guys for the sake of moving the story forward.  Mirasol, however, comes up with a pretty spectacular plan.  The interlopers want to put their own guy on the throne and remove the current Master so he can go back to being a Fire Elemental.  Mirasol is already showing signs of being completely smitten with the new Master and feels that the land/people couldn’t survive another change.

McKinley takes Mirasol on a tour of the village blessing every inch and corner of Willowlands with her cup o’ honey.  Having successfully done this, she returns to watch the Fire Elemental Master duel it out with swords with the would-be Master.  The new guy is obviously a puppet, and wouldn’t even be a threat if the current Master was more corporeal.  Cue Fairy Tale Ending: Mirasol has her awesome bees attack the interloper in the middle of the duel.  Somehow this is not seen as cheating. All of her bees die; it’s very sad.  But from the bodies of thousands of bees, arises the Master returned in the flesh of his enemy.  The fallen man lies on the ground burnt to a crisp.

Quick resolution: Mirasol and the Master wed, as it’s obviously the only sensical thing to do.

I loved the fairy tale elements of this story.  I think the world could have been more simply explained, but maybe it’s just McKinley’s style to announce something significant, spend pages explicating the history of these circumstances, to return to the conversation once you’re ready to scream Get On With the Story Already.

I’m looking forward to reading McKinley’s Sunshine book, as I’ve heard it’s highly recommended.  I would recommend Chalice to fans of overly complex high fantasy, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books.

3 out of 5 stars

This book was a gift.

Check out
Chellie on twitter and her blog!

  1. Someone
    May 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I was just confused at the very end. Since when did Mirasol and the Master shown love affection towards each other? It was great in some ways, but I felt it was more of a long history narration.

    • May 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  2. September 23, 2010 at 7:39 am
  3. Talon
    April 13, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Read the book in one sitting – it was that fabulous. I was rooting for Chalice and Master from almost the get-go. One question, though: What was the symbol the bee showed Mirasol at the end? Other than that, I thought the ending tied things up very nicely.

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