Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Plot Summary: 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 bind it to a Priest of Fire, the touch of whose hand can burn human flesh to the bone?

I’ve been a fan of Robin McKinley for years, since I picked up a copy of BEAUTY – a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I also enjoyed THE BLUE SWORD and THE HERO AND THE CROWN. I didn't enjoy CHALICE nearly as much as I enjoyed these other titles.

Narrative fiction. There’s a place for it, and it can work really well. If done right. Unfortunately, Chalice wasn’t. The characters are not well-described, the world is not explained or shown to us in a way we could imagine, and the conclusion felt clunky, like an afterthought.

But the main thing it was lacking? Voice. There are plenty of narrative fiction works out there that work really well. And they work because the author brings out an amazing Voice in the writing. We *hear* the main character speaking, feel what s/he is going through, and sympathize as a result. I couldn’t hear the main character in CHALICE, Mirasol, hardly at all. It really felt like an outsider *telling* her story, rather than the character herself showing it to me.
I think the author didn’t delve deep enough. What is so special about Mirasol? What does the author have to offer that makes this story intriguing and unique? None of that is there, and yet she’s an established author. So why isn’t it there? I actually think that the author knows everything about this story, the setting, and the characters. I think that if I asked her any kind of question, she’d have a good answer. But, somehow, those details didn’t make it onto the page. Perhaps the deadline was too aggressive. Perhaps more editing was needed. But this book felt like a first draft to me, like the main character had just finished telling the author her story.

I wasn’t originally going to write a review of this book, but since I’ve been talking so much about Voice lately, and since this book has such a lack of it, I decided it was fitting. : )

8 comments:

beth said...

I haven't read this, so I only skimmed a bit on your review.

But I wanted to say this: The Hero and the Crown is one of my favorite books OF ALL TIME. The Blue Sword is a worthy sequel. But every other book I've ever read by McKinley has let me down in some way. Beauty was nice, but unmemorable (as was Spindle's End)...Sunshine was a disaster. It felt incomplete and directionless.

I plan on reading Chalice...but I wonder if McKinley will ever capture the magic of Hero and the Crown again...or if she even wants to...

C.R. Evers said...

I haven't read any of those books. I should check out the ones that you liked. I may skip Chalice. Thanks for the heads up.

Marcia said...

Interesting. I never got into McKinley at all, so never pay attention to any of her books. Do you suppose she really only managed to pull it off once, and because she won the Newbery she still gets published?

PJ Hoover said...

This is bad but I have yet to read anything by Robin McKinley. I have The Hero and the Crown. I should add it to my 2009 list!

Anne Spollen said...

Whenever anyone is connected to the Newberry, I always think it's ME who's not getting what I should be out of it.

With the recent awards though, I'm starting to change my mind.

Tabitha said...

Beth - I completely agree about Spindle's End and Sunshine. Deerskin was worse. I think I liked Beauty because I read it as a teenager, and it was the first fairy tale retelling I'd ever read, which opened up new doors for me. I'm also wondering if McKinley can recapture what she did in The Hero and the Crown. I'm not sure I'll keep reading her work to find out...

Christy - The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword are great stories. Definitely check them out. :)

Marcia - that's entirely possible. That award is a good marketing tool, and she still seems to have a following. Could be because of the Newbery...

PJ - The Hero and the Crown is really good. If you like fantasy, you'll enjoy this. Her other stories, however, aren't as good. :(

Anne - yeah, I know what you mean. I haven't read the most recent winner, The Graveyard Book, yet. But I like the Neil Gaiman books I've read so far so I'm hopeful. :)

Christina Farley said...

Interesting. I will have to check out this author. I'm especially interested in Beauty since I like fairy tale retells. Would you recommend that one?

Tabitha said...

Yes, I'd recommend it. It's a good story, but I haven't read it since my teen years so I might be remembering it with rose-colored glasses. :) Still, it's a good retelling, though I can't remember how well it was written.