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Robin McKinley debuted with a fleshed-out retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," and later followed it up with ANOTHER retelling.

And after a few books about dragons and vampires, McKinley returns to her old territory -- she spins up a vaguely medieval tale of a woodland beauty and a charred "beast" entirely out of her own imagination. McKinley's sumptuous prose and her depiction of a "living" land add an extra dimension to a straightforward little love story that drips with sweetness.

Some months ago, the decadent Master of Willowlands and his Chalice were killed in a fire. The new Chalice is Mirasol, whose duty is to fill ceremonial cups and help bind the land.

But then the late Master's little brother arrives from the priests of Fire -- charred black and no longer entirely human. Mirasol is determined to do the best job she can for the new Master, when she isn't tending a woodland cottage covered in bees. Unfortunately the land is still unsettled despite her joint efforts with the Master, especially since his strange behavior frightens his people.

In the course of her duty, Mirasol soon gets to know her new Master -- he's quiet, kind, worried about burning people, and confused by the world he had almost forgotten. But as he struggles to keep his land balanced, the Overlord begins to scheme to put a new Master in Willowlands -- one that will do whatever he wishes. With her role as Chalice and her power over bees, Mirasol must find a way to save her beloved Master...

You wouldn't think that such a slender novel could have such a richly imagined world, where metaphysical bonds link the Master and Chalice to the very land itself. Not only does Robin McKinley conjure such a world in "Chalice," but she also wrought an intricate web of politics and tradition around the ritual roles. Poor Mirasol, trying to navigate her new role.

And McKinley's prose is as sweet and thick as Mirasol's honey ("the great windows were still twilight grey..."), but filled with a slightly bittersweet feeling. And she crams the novel with rural splendour -- trees, little cottages, old dusty books -- as well as anything having to do with bees and beekeeping. When Mirasol is with her books in the woodright, McKinley's writing takes on an exquisitely mystical edge (albeit a quieter one than her Chalice duties).

But once the Overlord's little plan comes into play, McKinley also interweaves a sense of dread and foreboding, which gets worse as the story creeps toward the inevitable clash. If there's a flaw in the story, it's that the bees serve a slightly deus-ex-machinesque function for the Master.

However, the heart of this story is the growing love story between two young people who are unsure how to do their jobs, and fear that they are failing. Mirasol and the Master (whose name is only revealed late in the book) are wonderfully realistic characters, and Mirasol's stumbles and struggles make her seem like a totally realistic country girl suddenly given a great task.

"Chalice" is the sort of story that Robin McKinley has penned before, but the land-mysticism and lush prose make it entirely unique. Definitely a must-read..
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on 13 January 2010
Hey sorry folks, I loved Chalice. Yes it is much gentler than her other books but i wouldn't call the heroine weak, she is a loner thrown out of her depth. Not much the hero can do till he gets human again.And naturally it keeps repeating Chalice, it's her name after all, none of the twelve go by their own names. (Incidentally who is the twelth one is it First Houseman, I can only count eleven.) My advice to would-be readers is if you liked Spindle's End you will probably like this too. I did.Spindle's EndSpindle's End
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on 29 April 2010
Mirasol is a beekeeper who suddenly inherits one of the most powerful positions on the large estate where she has lived her entire life.
Faced with problems which she alone can solve, but lacking the knowledge or training to understand her role, her support comes from unexpected sources; her bees, a man who is no longer human, and more mystical help from the bees' honey and the land which supports them all...
A woman of quiet strength who learns to believe in herself through the course of the book, Mirasol's character is central both to the storyline and to the tone of the story telling. Animals and even the land itself have strongly drawn personalities which enhance the telling of this beautiful, lyrical tale of the power of nature and goodness.
Different not only from from Sunshine and Dragonhaven, but equally from the Damarian stories, I enjoyed the mediaeval feel redolent of the Outlaws of Sherwood, combining with an original tale of fantasy.
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on 28 April 2010
A fairly short novel, very descriptive, and not too much background. I enjoyed the interplay of the characters, and the narrators increasing understanding of her world. There is tension, doubt, suspense and danger. Our heroine is naive and sweet, and is misled by more experienced people, who should have offered help. She comes out as brave and resourseful in the end. Lots of bees, some horses and earth magic.
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on 21 June 2010
I don't really understand the negative reviews - this seemed to me to be typical Robin Mckinley, well-written, imaginative and enthralling. I wouldn't argue it's her best (I loved Beauty and the Damar books, and Sunshine was a little unexpected and completely brilliant), but with a writer this good that means it's still a great book.
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on 22 August 2014
I love this book, because I love honey, and bees though I know bees much less than honey, never having kept them.
So I love the honeys for healing or mood because I totally relate and feel the same way about honeys!
And it is an excellent plot, too.
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on 5 December 2012
With its entirely invented world but totally human situations and reactions this is another wonderfully inventive (and wholesome) story from this Newberry Medal winning author. A book to read again.
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on 20 November 2010
I've recently been reading alot of Robin Mckinley books, the idea that I can read fairy tales with out my mother complaining that they're childrens books is very appealing. I bought this book in anticipation, for a long trip home, from uni, however I started to read it the day it came, and by the time I left to take the train down from Scotland, the next day, I had already finished it. Not to worry however, I simply started again. I very much enjoyed this book.
It's about Mirasol, a wood keeper who gets thrust unexpectedly into her Fife, or in the words od the book demesne, internal politics. Unusually she has not been apprenteced for her role, a sort of second in comand. Her demesne also gains a new Master at the begining of the book, a younger brother of the old Master who never expected to inherit, and has consiquently joined the priesthood, which makes it rather difficult for him to be excepted by his people. Marisol and her new Master must work together to overcome some political intrigue, and restore order and balance to their lands after the last Master and his Chalice (Marisol's role) exploited it, and died violently. Aided by her unusal bees, and their very special honey.
Sorry if that doesn't make an awful lot of sense. Basically I thouroughly enjoyed the book, Robin Mckinley convincingly creates her own world with a nice local political system, that is griping with out having to leave the comforts of the home town as it were, unlike many fantasy books that feel the need for almost excessive traveling. It's beutitfully written and the characters of Mirasol and the Master are well portrayed and loveable, while not being unrealistic.
However I would say that it is rather different from her other books, I don't think it's acctually much shorter than her other books, but it take far less time to read, as it lacks the vast purely discriptive passages that are Characteristic of Robin Mckinley. So one doesn't feel the need to wade through it quite as much. I can't quite decide if I prefer it or not to her other books for this reason.
This is a horridiously fab book that deffo deserves a read, or at least several, and I am thouroughly glad with my purchase. Well worth the money and time.
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on 18 January 2009
I totally agree with Mrs Pollard. This was a disappointing turn from one of my favourite authors. 'Spindle's End' and 'Sunshine' were both fantastic, both for adults and kids, and are some of my all-time, well read favourites. this time round it seems Ms. McKinley is resting on her laurels and is content to feed her publishers and editors a load of stilted, overblown nonsense. The prose was so flowery it made me nauseous, and while the premise of the story seemed interesting enough, it never took off. I only kept reading because I was so loyal to her other books and thought the magic would start happening soon... it never did. The beginning started so abruptly and i thought at some point during the book, things would be explained or begin to make sense... I was hugely disappointed. Badly done, sloppy and lazy writing, McKinley!
Save your money... I'm ebaying my copy and hoping to get my money back!!
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on 8 January 2009
This book is really disapointing. So disappointing that I could hardly believe the author wrote it, as I have enjoyed her other books.
The heroine is really wishey-washey and boring ; the hero is even worse. There is no humour and all characterisation is poor. It is a mass of repetitive prose. I got so bored- and cross because I very much liked her previous books- I even started to count the number of times CHALICE was written on each page. I would say there were an average of 5 per page but sometimes as many as 8. Poor even for a first novel.
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