Review: Chalice

This is a review of Chalice by Robin McKinley. The mass market paperback was published by Ace in November 2009. Amazon Canada has it listed for $9.99.

The great temptation when reviewing a book by Robin McKinley is that you simply quote her beautiful prose. The second temptation is that one can so easily get distracted by discussing her wonderful earlier books. So, let me get this out of the way first; I love all her books. And especially The Blue Sword and The Hero and The Crown I have given them to all my female relatives, and probably strangers on the street if they stopped and talked to me.

I think Robin McKinley is one of the best fantasists writing today and if you are a writer; interested in writing meaningful, engaging and moving fantasy, then she is a writer to study. If you are a reader, then her books are a joy to read and re-read again.

A couple of points about what makes great fantasy; the best and most involving fantasy reads as if it is a story that you are remembering or rediscovering (without being a boring rehash of previous books). This is a fine line to tread – creating a story full of emotional resonance, where the plot moves in fresh directions that allow the reader to discover new territory while somehow seeming as familiar as if people have been telling the story forever.

The other distinguishing trait of a successful fantasy story is that; the story is at some level a morality tale. In fantasy, the morality tale is centered on the individual. Science Fiction may deal with morality but typically, on the level of societies or groups. Fantasy concentrates on the moral behaviour of the hero or heroine.

Ms. McKinley’s novels are about the moral behaviour of her heroines. Not written as a boring or strident paper in a Women’s Studies class, but in beautiful lyrical prose. The imagery; bees, heat, honey - is as hypnotic as a hot summer’s day. In Chalice; as in many of her books she is examining the tension between the individual’s responsibilities to society versus their own needs.

And she does it from a particular feminine perspective. Our heroine – Mirasol worries about being literally consumed by fire if she fulfills her duties. She wants to perform the tasks that make up her specialized role in her community – but she also wants the life she had before she became the Chalice. The position of the Chalice is always held by a woman, and is extremely ritualized. For Mirasol, this rigidly feminine ideal is new, intimidating and a little ridiculous.

Cast partly as a romance, Chalice gives the male hero a great deal of sympathy and understanding. He too, is balancing his desires against his responsibilities. McKinley is observing the beginning of a relationship between two adults. But ultimately, the hero remains a bit of an enigma as the story focuses on Mirasol.

All in all, a wonderful read. So, please check out Chalice recommended to you by WebGenii.

Reading level: Young Adult
Mass Market Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Ace; Reprint edition (November 24, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0441018742
ISBN-13: 978-0441018741

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WebGenii is a SF book nerd and all-round geek.

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