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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

cover of Robin McKinley's 'Chalice'

Mirasol was a beekeeper and woodskeeper until the Master and Chalice of the Willowlands were both suddenly and violently killed, without heir and apprentice. The land chose Mirasol to be the next Chalice, and so she had to step into the official role, second in the Circle, without any training or apprenticeship (and to the apparent dismay of the remaining members of the Circle). The Chalice is a magic user and a cup-bearer who mixes drinks to bind, or connect, or help make decisions, and is part of many rituals of the ruling of the demesne, and who works with the Master of that demesne to protect the land and the people. But the Master that Mirasol must learn to work with is the younger brother of the dead Master, who was sent away to become a Fire Elemental Priest six years ago. The Grand Seneschal sent for him out of desperation, and he returned out of loyalty and responsibility to the land; but he had gone far enough into the priesthood that he is no longer quite human, and certainly looks and moves very strangely, with blackened skin and reddish eyes. However, Mirasol is also different than any other Chalice; usually their magic runs in wine or water, or occasionally milk (and, in ancient, more violent times, occasionally blood); but the power of the Chalice manifests itself in Mirasol's honey and her bees.

I did not realize until very near the end of the book that this was, really, another of McKinley's re-tellings of the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps I should have figured it out sooner, since the Master is an inhuman being that the people, even his servants, are afraid of. Only Mirasol seems to see the kindness in him; he unintentionally burns her when he first returns, because he is tired and has not yet learned how to control his elemental fire among normal humans, but later he uses his fire to heal her. When he explains that he can see things by their heat, she is able to imagine the beauty in something so foreign.

In a way, Mirasol reminds me of Sunshine: both are magic users with a unique source or channel for their power (honey, sunlight), and both come into their power untrained-- what is said outright is suggested here also, that training might have limited and constrained their abilities to what tradition says is possible. For Mirasol, this results in her last-ditch effort traveling around the lands and edges of the demesne to bind it back together and strengthen it against what might destroy it.

I enjoyed reading a new McKinley book; I had kind of been saving it, and when I finally started it, I found it difficult to stop, and finished it quite quickly.

Author:Robin McKinley
Date published:2008
Genre:Young Adult Fantasy
Number of pages:259


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