Robin McKinley: Chalice (2008)

Beekeeper Marisol has been chosen as the new Chalice, destined to stand beside the Master and mix the ceremonial brews that hold the Willowlands together. But the relationship between Chalice and Master has always been tumultuous, and the new Master is unlike any before him.

My favourite fantasy authors are Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julliet Marillier, Patricia McKillip, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. I’m not such an avid fantasy reader but I think when it comes to genre writing, psychological crime and high fantasy are my favourites. Of course I was intrigued every time I saw Robin McKinley mentioned but what really pushed me to read her was when I saw the review of Chalice on BookRain’s blog and that she compared her to Julliet Marillier.

I wasn’t disappointed, Chalice is such a lovely book, one of the most beautiful fantasy novels I’ve ever read. It’s like the honeycombs it evokes, with every sentence fitting in its right place and making it a finely constructed whole.

Marisol the beekeeper and woodkeeper has become Chalice of the demesne of Willowsland. Never has there been a honey Chalice. And never has there been a Chalice who hasn’t been an apprentice before. The Chalice is the second most important person of the Circle, the entity who rules over the ritual part of the demesne, responsible for its spiritual and physical well-being.  At the head of the circle is the Master, followed by his Chalice.

Usually there is a bloodline for both Master and Chalice but in this case, the former Master and Chalice have died a violent death and since there was no heir, the next in line, the master’s brother, a Fire priest, had to be called back. He isn’t human anymore, his touch can burn a human to the bones, his face is black with red, flickering eyes.

Marisol, the Chalice and the Fire Priest are both unprepared and struggle to find their way in this highly ritualized environment. The Chalice studies as many books as she can find, looks up on ceremonies and meanings and at the same time invents new rituals, helped by her bees and the earthlines who speak to her.

Not everybody is happy about a pair like these two and so the Overlord, the political head of the demesne, wants the Master to leave and hand over his place to an outblood heir.

Marisol knows that this is the worst that could happen to the demesne. That would mean turmoil and chaos and she hopes it will never happen. But whether he can stay or not, will be decided in a duel.

What I loved so much about this book is the atmosphere. Sweet and floating, like the scent of beeswax candles. The descriptions are beautiful and following Marisol’s journey has something enchanting and almost hypnotic. The world building is exquisite. I was there in Willowsland the whole time. And Marisol is such a great character, so real. She is very insecure and has to find her way in an hostile environment but her strength and her love for her home guide her. I liked how she lived, on her own, outside of the Great House or the village, only with her bees whom she treats like pets. She learns about the tradition of Chalice but because she never underwent a proper training she dares to invent new ways which she combines with the tradition. Every Chalice mixes ritual cups but Marisol adds honey to hers. Even before she was Chalice she knew how to heal with honey, knew that every variety has its own properties.

Chalice is a magical story, a love story as well as the description of a land in chaos that is slowly brought back to peace by a heroine who can accept her weakness and trusts herself completely.

I’m going to read more of Robin McKinley. I’m not sure which one I will read next, maybe Beauty or Sunshine. Any recommendations? Which is your favourite Robin McKinley book?

32 thoughts on “Robin McKinley: Chalice (2008)

  1. Both Beauty and Sunshine are fantastic! I’ve never read anything by Robin McKinley that I didn’t absolutely love though. It’s hard to say which is my favorite: I particularly enjoyed The Hero and the Crown as well as The Outlaws of Sherwood. Pegasus is awesome too, and the sequel comes out this year.

    • Thanks, that’s great to know. I liked Chalice so much I thought she has certainly wrote more than one book I’ll love. I’m looking forward to read another one now. Pegasus did intrigue me, so did The Hero and the Crown.

  2. I don’t really read fantasy (except I try to when it’s time for Carl’s reading challenge), though I would really like to try Marion Zimmer Bradley at some point–I have her Mists of Avalon but the size does make me hesitate. I do like books with strong and interesting heroines, so I’ll have to note this one down. I like the beekeeping aspect of the story, too. And I see her books are published and available over here too!

    • Marion Zimmer Bradlye is fantastc, in my opionion. I have read a lot of her books and also the more paranormal ones – less fantasty – were great and all with strong heroines. Maybe you should try a shorter one. I think you might like The Firebrand. I’m so glad I discovered Robin McKinley. Her books are mostly short. I like the beekeeping, I have a thing for bees.

  3. Oooh, this one has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now. I’ll definitely have to read it soon!

    Robin McKinley is one of my favorite writers because she is able to create a fairy-tale atmosphere that’s appropriate to readers of all ages. Even the books that she writes for children don’t talk down to their audiences, but instead feature intense worldbuilding and a lush vocabulary. I think that my favorite by her is “The Blue Sword,” which is the sequel to her earlier novel “The Hero and the Crown,” but can still read as a standalone. “Sunshine” is a bit different from her other novels, as it uses a vampire theme, but it’s still fantastic. “Beauty” is also good, as is “Spindle’s End.” Actually, I don’t think that I’ve read anything by McKinley that I haven’t liked…

    • I’m really looking forward to her other novels. I was wondering whether The Blue Sword was the sequel to The Hero and the Crown. I’m glad you mentioned it. The writing is wonderful, I agree. I have a feeling I could end up reading all of her novels. I hope you will enjoy Chalice as much as I did.

      • It’s interesting, because it’s the type of sequel that’s set a few hundred years after the first book, which means that it’s more of a companion to it than a sequel and can function well as a standalone. 😀

  4. I loved how her bees followed her around 🙂
    I think “Beauty” was her debut novel, so maybe now you can go back and read them in order. Lol, I still haven’t read them all yet, but whichever you start with is sure to be enjoyable. I’ve never read books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Patricia McKillip or Charles de Lint Which would you recommend I read from first? I have “The Bell at Sealey Head,” but I haven’t read it yet. Oh! and speaking of Julliet Marillier I heard she has a YA novel coming out this year. So excited!

    • I’m glad you reviewed it. I wouldn’t have started with this one and I liked it so much. I liked everything by Marion Zimmer Bradley but The Mists of Avalon is the best i my opinion followed by The Firebrand. I liked The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Mc Killip and my favourite de Lint so far was the short story collection Dreams Underfoot. It’s absolutely great. I need to read more of Marillier. Good to know she has a new one out soon.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline! I have heard of Robin McKinley, but haven’t read any of her books. I am not a big fantasy reader, though I read one occasionally. The relationship between Marison and her bees and the description of the Master look quite interesting.

    • Thanks, Vishy. Her writing is very poetical, the atmosphere and mood are really lovely. I like fantasy a lot but do not read it all that often. I hope you will try her one day.

    • It’s a perfect choice. I really hope you will like it as much as I did. I will certainly participate as well and read at least one other of her books. It’s rare that a writer is this gifted. It’s very well written.

    • That happens to me often. I mean to read more of an author but never get to it. But I know I will in this case. So far nobody has been disappointed by any of her books. I really not sure which wil be my next one.

  6. I did read Marion Zimmer Bradley. Can you believe this?

    You didn’t sell me this one though, it’s too hard for me to get rid of my rational mind to enjoy such a book. But I trust you when you say it’s a good one in its genre.

  7. Pingback: Best Books 2012 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  8. I never thought of comparing this to Juliet Marillier, but now that you say it, I can see that! I wouldn’t compare all of McKinley’s books to Marillier, but this one, yes. 🙂 Two of my favorite authors, by the way!

    • I love them both. I haven’t read anything else by McKinley yet but the tone reminded me of Marillier, the way it made me feel.
      I have to read more of both.

  9. Pingback: Chalice by Robin McKinley | Tales of the Marvelous

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