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Chalice (2008)

by Robin McKinley

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,590789,807 (3.87)118
A beekeeper by trade, Mirasol's life changes completely when she is named the new Chalice, the most important advisor to the new Master, a former priest of fire.
  1. 71
    The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Aerrin99)
    Aerrin99: Outside of the author, both books also share a similar feel and feature an interesting and strongly-written female character struggling to deal with her given role.
  2. 30
    The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: To continue a bit of the bee theme.
  3. 30
    Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (MyriadBooks)
  4. 20
    Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (emperatrix)
  5. 10
    Uprooted by Naomi Novik (MyriadBooks)
  6. 00
    The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier (Herenya)
    Herenya: Certain similarities in the worldbuilding, and both stories are about dealing with unexpected responsibilities and learning on the job about the magic abilities which are part and parcel of that.
  7. 00
    A Keeper of Bees: Notes on Hive and Home by Allison Wallace (infiniteletters)
  8. 00
    A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin (infiniteletters)
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» See also 118 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
I quite liked the meandering style of this one, although other reviewers disagree. The world McKinley built sounds a very interesting one (with the land as not-quite-sentient but very much aware and the relationship of the Master and Chalice as tied very fundamentally to it). I would have liked more explanation of the other Circle members duties, since so much detail is left to the reader's own conjecture. I found Mirasol's struggle to simultaneously learn and fulfill her duties as a very relatable one, even though her (personal) relationship with the Master left me feeling confused. The ending was quite abrupt though. And I found the reaction to the death of Horuld, the would-be Heir, to be rather callous. Even though he was presented as quite a weak character, he was only doing as he was bid by the Overlord, and I thought his death deserved a bit more sympathy. Overall, I quite enjoyed the story. Even with all the bees. ( )
  wonderlande | Jan 1, 2023 |
Lovely, lovely book. Much like her other books, from what I remember, everything is written and told in a rather calm, slow-moving way but everything that you read is of the utmost urgency and importance. You must keep reading to know what will happen.
Mirasol is a beekeeper who is chosen to be the Chalice, the second-most powerful and important member of the Circle, who rule and ensure the demesne's unity and wholeness. The most powerful and important member is the Master, but he had been sent to the priests of Fire long ago to learn their ways, and is no longer quite human... What can be done to repair the hysterical land when the Master is feared and inhuman, the Circle members do not trust each other, and the Chalice is inexperienced and has no idea what to do? Mirasol does her best with the help of honey, her bees, and lots of reading, but the members of the Circle must come together and trust the Master.
The story is, of course, more complex than this; the above blurb does not do it justice. The only not-great thing about this book is that it can be somewhat confusing. It's not told in a straightforward way, jumping forward and back in time, and it can be kind of hard to figure out what is going on and why things are important somehow. Overall, however, this is a wonderful book, an original fantasy story with imperfect, complex characters and its own world and magic. Very much recommended. ( )
  Mialro | Dec 15, 2022 |
Sept 25-27 2015, 4th read, 5 stars:
Yet again I found myself suddenly wanting to re-read this book and ended up devouring it in a couple days. I am lucky the library by my workplace had it in; I really need to buy my own copy. And I upped it to 5 stars this time, even though I know objectively it's far from a perfect book. But I identify so much with Mirasol in many ways; I think that may have something to do with why I kept having urges to revisit this despite only giving it 3 stars the very first time I ever read it.

Mirasol is a beekeeper who takes the position of Chalice within her demesne's ruling Circle, a role that places her as the second most important figure in serving and protecting her hometown. She, along with a new Master who has just returned from a 7-year stint as a priest of Fire, must find make her way in mending the broken demesne left in the disastrous wake of the previous Master and Chalice.

This is a very introspective and meditative book. Mirasol's inner monologue reveals a self-reflective personality that is constantly and anxiously striving to do her best in the given circumstances. She dwells a lot on past events, turning them and her worries over and over again in her head. She strikes me as having imposter syndrome; always feeling like she falls short of expectations when she, in fact, is doing quite well. There's also a nice tension between her duty to her role as Chalice and being herself, which she is continuously negotiating throughout the book.

The narrative itself moves back and forth from past events to the present storyline using flashbacks and reminiscences, which normally I dislike but I felt it worked very well here. McKinley's mellifluous prose, like the sweet honey of Mirasol's bees, deftly weaves together the past timeline with the present. The narrative is often somewhat circular and repetitive-- but I didn't really mind it. It reflects how Mirasol's mind works, her constant fretting over doing her duty properly. I suppose to someone else, it might make her a terribly irritating character, but I always seem to pick up this book right when I am in the mood to read something like this, and she's always seemed like a really strong character to me. And even though she worries a lot, she's constantly doing something about it, studying up on Chalicehood, caring for her bees, helping the people of the demesne-- this is a character who knows how to take action, though the action may not be dramatic or heroic as you'd expect from a fantasy novel.

Which brings me to another point-- this is a fantasy novel on a much smaller scale. The book's setting is inhabited with an everyday, ordinary sort of magic, and the heroism isn't grand but I think it's still heroism nonetheless. Mirasol's mission is to save her demesne and its people; while it may not involve sword fights, it does involve a lot of hard work.

McKinley's writing in this book is all about subtlety, I think. Re-reading this, I can see and appreciate how she reveals details about the characters almost casually, mentioning how Mirasol couldn't kill her bees the winter after her mother dies or showing how Mirasol's thoughts often drift to the Master or describing how Mirasol has found her world shifting just slightly when the Master walks in the room. McKinley's descriptive prowess is also great-- I like her descriptions of the land as a living thing, changing with and reacting to the events that occur upon.

I don't know if I can actually recommend this book because I suspect most people would find it boring. Not much actually happens, aside from a few key events. But I really love it, as you can tell. And I find it interesting that this book has grown so much on me. It has now become one of my absolute favourites, but if I hadn't decided to re-read it the first time, this wouldn't have happened. But perhaps it is the kind of book that keeps you thinking about it long after and that's why I picked it up a second time...


*

Previous reviews:

March 5-7 2013, 3rd read, 4 stars:
I suddenly felt like re-reading this one, even though I remembered that I found the 2nd half dragging upon my first re-read. I always think this book is better than it actually is, and every time I get to the last 2/3, I always feel like rushing through it because it has just gone on long enough already! McKinley's prose is lovely, but it's so circular and repetitive that I get tired close to the end.

This time, though, I found the worldbuilding very much complete-- I bet McKinley has it all in her head but not all of it gets into the book because it is told from Mirasol's perspective, and she doesn't need to explain everything because they are very normal to her. This book is about Mirasol's personal journey from small woodskeeper to Chalice, this is a very character-driven book, so we do not need to know about the setting beyond what is necessary for Mirasol's story. Although I would very much have liked to. I doubt McKinley would ever write it, but I would love more stories within this world, perhaps about other characters.

*

2010, 1st read, 3 stars: I thought this book was both confusing and compelling, since it starts in the middle of the story and as you read along, what happened before is slowly revealed through flashbacks and memories. It's fine as a technique to tell a story, but the problem I found with this particular novel is that frankly, I felt as if nothing much happened in the first half. It's mostly explanations of the world and introducing the characters but this is done using lengthy, albeit with lush, descriptions rather than action. There are also paragraphs and paragraphs detailing the main character's beekeeping activities which where unnecessarily long. In short, the first half of the book often seems like a rambling mess. However, the action starts in the second half and the book becomes much more interesting.

McKinley uses an understated writing style where she gives hints and clues as to what's going on, but never fully explains anything, preferring the reader to figure it out for themselves. I found this both frustrating and intriguing, as it kept me reading in hopes that certain things would be made a bit clearer. I don't think it's necessary for an author to explain everything, but she could have given us just a bit more about the fantasy world she created. The world-building felt incomplete, and McKinley hints at a lot of interesting ideas but never truly develops them. I did like how the relationship between Mirasol and the Master was handled, and thought the ending for them made perfect sense, even if it was a bit of a surprise. Still, there is much more to be desired with this book and it's just a shame that McKinley chose to spend more time writing in unnecessary detail about the habits of bees rather than showing us more of her world and characters.
( )
  serru | Oct 6, 2022 |
This is one of those novels that reads more like a short story---long on theme and rather short on story (if you'll pardon the pun). And perhaps for that reason, I feel it would've been better if it had, in fact, been shorter. When compared to most of McKinley's other books, Chalice is practically a novella already, and while the latter half of the book possesses all of honey's potency and golden sweetness, I still had to contend with the viscous exposition and flashbacks-within-flashbacks frustrating the flow of the book's beginning.

Still, the characters are wonderful---distinct, flawed, crisp even in their quietness. And because the characters are so silent, their concerns deeply felt and difficult to share, each conversation between them is to be savored. Conflicts and concerns and considerations surface and as they are voiced, they bring the characters closer to understanding one another and us nearer to knowing them. Also, how could I help but love a book that makes such delightful use of honeybees? Mirasol's talk of skeps and swarms and "little missus" worker bees made me long for hives of my own. ( )
  slimikin | Mar 27, 2022 |
I typically like more dialogue in my books than McKinley typically puts into her books. But it was a nice other-world, very well thought out as all her worlds are. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
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To Molly, Gard, Chiron and Guenevere
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Because she was Chalice she stood at the front door with the Grand Seneshal, the Overlord's agent and the Prelate, all of whom were carefully ignoring her.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The isbn associated with this edition is actually for The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver
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A beekeeper by trade, Mirasol's life changes completely when she is named the new Chalice, the most important advisor to the new Master, a former priest of fire.

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