Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chalice by Robin McKinley

The demense is in unstable times, only having just survived seven years of disrule at the hand of the late Master. Mirasol comes to the position of Chalice during these trying times. A new Master comes to the Willowlands, the younger brother of the previous Master. A priest of Fire has never returned to live among humans before. The land speaks to Mirasol of its pain. But what can she do to heal the land when she doesn't even know how to be Chalice yet?

This is the first Robin McKinley book I've read. She wrote one of the pep talks for NaNoWriMo in November. I was excited that Kristin Cashore and Tamora Pierce were writing pep talks, but others who loved those two ladies' work also were really excited about McKinley's contribution. So, she went on my list of books to read.

McKinley is more noted for her two young adult books based on the Beauty and the Beast story and her adult vampire book Sunshine. I picked up this book and Blue Sword when I was at a NaNoWriMo write-in and these were the ones that the store had stocked at the time. So perhaps it wasn't the best first exposure to the author.

My first reaction to the story is that it was slow moving and heavily descriptive. But then, when your main character wields her powers through honey, crisp action scenes probably wouldn't fit too well. Most of the "action" in the book comes from the range of emotion the heroine experiences. She is a quiet and isolated woman, so dwelling in her emotion would be normal for that type of person. A small complaint: sometimes I had to reread passages when it went back and forth between flashbacks and present.

McKinley connects the people to their demense through something called "landsense" which is heavier with some families than with others. Both Chalice and Master have a deep connection to their homeland, which is one of the biggest drivers to their actions. After seeing Avatar, it feels a little like an environmentalist theme of trying to heal the plants and animals around them. So that made me roll my eyes a little bit.

One thing that bothers me personally is the definition of people by what they do: Chalice, Master, Talisman, Clearseer, for example. Once they take the named position, they are no longer the person they were. There is a lot to being called to a specific purpose and feeling a duty to perform in the position. But I've never felt so confident in my life's work to want to be defined wholly by my employment. But then again, it's young adult and high fantasy, so what are you supposed to do?

I did love how there are different honeys for different purposes. I love how different honey tastes depending on where and what kind of flowers it comes from. Current favorites are local wildflower and clover honey. It's amazing the character it adds to the foods you add it to. I'm currently stealing my sister's breakfast: oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and honey. I love the way even a little honey adds an earthiness to the oatmeal and how the blueberries make it taste bright. Sigh. Your basic squeezy-bear honey just doesn't do it for me anymore.

Overall impression of the book is that there isn't a whole lot of action. So if that's your thing, you probably won't enjoy it. A worthwhile read, but not something I'll permanently keep on my shelf.