Saturday, February 14, 2009
Chalice by Robin McKinley
I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up
A totally engrossing fantasy for the right reader. Mirasol is a simple beekeeper in the Willowlands who has just been named Chalice - a leader second only to the Master of the land, responsible for keeping balance. Her job is complicated by her complete lack of training to be Chalice (she simply has to listen to the earthlines and do what feels right), the turmoil in the land after the excesses and violent death of the previous master, and the upheaval of a new one taking power. The new Master is the brother of the previous one, but he has been away for years studying to become a priest of elemental fire - and as such, is no longer quite human. The people fear him, and there is even a plot to remove him from power and replace him with an outlander - which would have disastrous consequences for the land.
This is definitely a book for sophisticated readers - not because of content, but because of structure. There are frequent flashbacks, and there are no epic battles to move the plot along. There is intrigue and romance, but they are quiet. There is magic, but it is related more to listening to the earth than saying the right spell. There is a great deal of ceremony, and a lot of character and world-building. The result is a fascinating place where people and land are so tied together that political upsets can cause natural disasters. I say it's a winner, but those who prefer their fantasy with a hearty helping of dragons or wand-waving may not be as interested.