Chalice by Robin McKinley is a fantasy novel about Mirasol, a beekeeper who suddenly finds herself in the prestigious position of Chalice. In the realm of this fantasy world, Chalice is second only to the Master of the demesne. As for the Master, he’s a Priest of the Fire, which means that he gives his life over to the element of Fire. Once a Priest passes the third level, they are said to be unable to live amongst humans. When the Master is called back from the Fire, he has just crossed the third level, and he is unable to fully control himself. He is described as having blackened skin and red fingertips and eyes. He scares most of the people in his demesne, even Mirasol at first.
The book’s story revolves mostly around Mirasol and the Master learning to work together and how they combat the Overlord and the man he staked as the demesne’s Heir. This man fully intends on marrying Mirasol and forcing her to have children with him to solidify his position, and most of the people of the Circle–which works as their governing body–agree with having this outblood Heir to take the place of their dangerous Fire Priest Master. Only one appears to side with the Master, and the Master himself doesn’t even believe he’s right for the place until he realizes that Mirasol believes in him.
I love Mirasol as a character. She isn’t all peppy and plucky. She’s shy and smart and confused. She spends most of her time with her bees or reading. She reminds me a lot of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. To be honest, this entire story reminded me of Beauty and the Beast. Book smart farming girl falling in love with misunderstood scary looking dude with meanie trying to marry her? Yep. Sounds like Beauty and the Beast.
My absolute favorite scene in the entire book was when the Master came down to Mirasol’s home for the first time and requests honey. She brings it out and she is staring at his eyes and blurts out the question: “Do you see any differently?” His response is that he sees colors, but he sees in heat. He describes it as human or pony shapes with little life forces within. Mirasol wonders what her bees look like and he tells her that they look like hundreds of tiny golden sparks glittering in the sun. She replies that it sounds beautiful and she wistfully tells him that she wishes she could see them the way he does. There is a moment where she feels embarrassed for saying as much, but when she looks over at the Master, he is wearing a surprised expression on his face. This scene endeared both characters to me and though it was in the middle of the book, it still stands out the brightest to me.
I think the writing was done brilliantly. It was poetic without being too much and I like that she goes ahead and turns those dusty rules on their heads. She sprinkles the story with no-nos like contractions at the start of a sentence, ellipses, sentence breaks, fragments, and adverbs. It comes across as easy to digest, but definitely not overly simple. She’s also highly skilled at evoking a scene without going into boring detail.
All in all, I’d say I loved Chalice by Robin McKinley and will continue to read her books in the future.