Several months ago I was introduced to the author Robin McKinley. I moderate (not very well, unfortunately) the LiveJournal community Lolita Bookclub. and her hauntingly beautiful novel Deerskin was suggested and selected for one of the monthly books. I enjoyed the tale, a retelling of a fairy tale aimed at a young-adult audience, despite the fact that I typically dislike the fantasy genre. I do, however, love fairy tales–and that is exactly what enraptured me. It was a fairy tale with depth and details.
After that I read Spindle’s End, because I love the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and was even less disappointed despite my higher expectations. Recently I placed a hold on a great deal of books from my local library, and while I was browsing the catalog, wondering if I ought to add anything else, Robin McKinley’s name came to mind. My library has a fairly wide selection of her books–they must be popular among their intended audience–so I decided on the first cover image I spotted: Chalice.
I placed it on hold without wondering what it was about or doing any research, and picked it up the next day without having given it further thought. I idly opened it yesterday evening, but wasn’t able to read more than a paragraph before receiving a series of telephone calls. Tonight, after dinner, the cover caught my eye and I supposed it would be nice to see exactly what I had brought home. By the time I finished the first page I literally couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing, pausing occasionally only to brew more tea. (I love reading while drinking tea–it’s soothing and relaxing. ♥)
Chalice is one of those stories that has come up with a detailed cultural structure, but doesn’t blandly explain it to you. Instead, you’re thrust immediately into a world that isn’t much like your own, picking up on context and hints to orient yourself. I always appreciate that in a book; I don’t very much like the dullness of explanation. A story should do more than literally tell me something.
The writing style is clearly intended for a younger audience, but not dumbed down to an entirely simplistic level. It flows quickly, without much breaking or awkwardness, and without moments of overbearing or underwhelming. It’s certainly no Ulysses, but makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read–the perfect sort of thing for curling up with a hot cup of tea and a bear dressed in a bunny hood.
The story itself tells of an ordinary girl with an extraordinary task–a beekeeper who is told she must fulfill an important role in her kingdom without any guidance. She must become Chalice, the one who calms and binds the land and those who support it. Typically Chalices are apprenticed and taught from very young, but she does not have this luxury, as the former Chalice was killed in an accident and had chosen no successor. Further complicating things, there is also a new Master of the land–as the former perished with the previous Chalice–and he is not merely unexperienced…he is no longer human.
My favourite parts of the entire story–the parts that made me giggle or squeal gleefully–are anything involving Mirasol’s bees. I’m not particularly nature-loving, nor do I enjoy insects. Reading about her hives of large, fuzzy, adoring bees makes me want to set up a hive and get to work! (Not that my building manager would be very pleased!) Whenever honey was mentioned I wanted to get up and make something honeyed, but I knew that the honey in my kitchen cabinets could not compare to the shining image and impression of the story’s honeys.
There’s always something soothing to read about normal people making the best of their situations and trying to do what they can in times of need. It’s the sort of thing I like more than any dreamy escapism. I like heroines that aren’t sure of themselves, more beautiful than the sun, or ceaselessly even-tempered. I like heroes that aren’t dashing figures with no personality. Even if it is a world with big and friendly bees, I like characters that make me think of actual people I know–not just a single amplified trait.
A prominent theme in the story involved setting a precedent: doing something other than just following tradition. I think that is something that too few people are willing to do–more often we follow what we learn from others without trying something new. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it stifles creativity and can prevent growth. Change isn’t always a bad thing–sometimes it’s only through change that we discover the better way to do something. There won’t always be someone to show you what you ought to do; sometimes you just have to take the initiative and try, even if you don’t succeed. When that happens, you must learn from your mistakes and fix what you can. It’s not easy, but it’s very important.
I also like happy endings~ ♥ (I wasn’t disappointed.) I’ll have to read one of her other stories…maybe after I finish some of the other books in my new pile!