fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Robin McKinley ChaliceChalice by Robin McKinley

A beautiful fairytale for the YA reader, Chalice is a very loose reinterpretation of a Beauty and the Beast story. Mirasol is a beekeeper who is forced to become the Chalice for her demesne after the previous Chalice and Master are killed in an accident. Her role is to bind her abused land back together and to the new Master, a Priest of Fire, a being who isn’t quite human and can burn both the land and human flesh with the barest touch. Uniquely, her source of magical power is the honey she makes with her bees.

Honey serves a central role in the story, and is also a good descriptor for the story for it’s a sweet tale, and moves slowly along. Mirasol is believable as a humble woodswoman forced into the second most powerful role in her country by magical forces beyond her control and is struggling to find her way. The pacing suffers at times, with jumps of months in the action at times, and a liberal use of flashbacks. At times, the book seems like a series of vignettes rather than a connected plot, but these are eventually woven together to describe how Mirasol gets to the situation she is in, with the classic “show not tell” mantra of good writing.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRobin McKinley is a master of lush, beautiful prose. You can hear the hum of the bees in your ears as you are reading Chalice, and you can feel the weight of the burden Mirasol is struggling under.

My two main complaints about Chalice are with the Master character. He isn’t given a lot of time in the story, so he remains kind of an enigma. I would have liked to have known more about his struggle against Fire to return to humanity, which would have added a layer of intensity to the story that was missing through most of the book. It also is the cause of my second complaint: the romance feels grafted on. Of course, in any good fairy tale they have to live happily ever after, but the happy ending between Chalice and Master seems rushed. I could see it heading in that direction, with the relationship between the two blossoming, but it bursting into full bloom at the end seemed premature.

But, those minor quibbles aside, Chalice is a beautifully written fairy tale. Though intended for a YA audience, I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys fairytales or stories of nature magic.

Chalice — (2008) Young adult. Publisher: As the newly appointed Chalice, Mirasol is the most important member of the Master’s Circle. It is her duty to bind the Circle, the land and its people together with their new Master. But the new Master of Willowlands is a Priest of Fire, only drawn back into the human world by the sudden death of his brother. No one knows if it is even possible for him to live amongst his people. Mirasol wants the Master to have his chance, but her only training is as a beekeeper. How can she help settle their demesne during these troubled times and Robin McKinley fantasy book reviews Sunshine, Dragonhaven, Chalicebind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone? Robin McKinley weaves a captivating tale that reveals the healing power of duty and honor, love and honey.


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.