It has been too long since I have written a post here. I am in the middle of an excellent book, so it’s not a matter of being unmotivated to finish what I’m currently reading. I just have found a lot of other things to do besides read and post. I want to put something up here, though, so I went through my old reviews again and remembered one that I had been wanting to share.
Today’s book is Chalice, by Robin McKinley, and I read it in January of 2011. It was an interesting story about ritual magic, set in a medieval-type world created by the author. The main character, Mirasol, is part of a group of magical caretakers of their realm, who join forces in order to make changes in the environment (such as changing weather patterns and putting out fires). Mirasol is originally a simple peasant with a bee-keeping business, doing a bit of healing on the side. As she grows older, it becomes clear that her affinity and skill with bees and honey are more than above-average knowledge and intuition. She is chosen to be a part of the local magic “circle,” in a role called the Chalice, because her talents are clearly supernatural and suited to that particular job.
Now that you know the premise, let’s continue on!
I tried hard to set aside my prejudice against Ms. McKinley (formed from reading Deerskin) in reading this book and forming an opinion of it. I’d like to think I nearly succeeded, but just keep in mind that the only other book of hers I read, I still think of with strong distaste.]
Anyway, onto the review.
I’d like to give this book 3.5 stars, but I’m not willing to round up to 4. The extra half star is for what was a really good idea, but could have been made even better with a little polishing.
I liked the story, but the problem was that even though the entire story is told through the perspective of the main character, we never really get to know her as a person. I was unable to get a concept of what she looked like, the way her voice might have sounded, or even what kind of personality she had outside of her role as Chalice. She was almost purely utilitarian as a character. All her interactions seemed so impersonal. I just couldn’t relate to her or care much about her.
I was interested in the character of the Master, but again, there seemed to be little development of him. Both his and Chalice’s dialogue (as well as other characters) seemed stiff, forced, awkward, and (again) impersonal – distant and unemotional. Given all their interactions, I expected Chalice/Mirasol to start thinking a little more lovingly about the Master; I anticipated seeing some sort of seeds of romance sprouting, but I never felt it. I thought that perhaps I was meant to have felt it, but if so, it fell flat for me.
As I said before, this was a good story, and I enjoyed it. I liked the premise, I liked the setting and particular characteristics of the story’s world, and I thought the plot developments were interesting ones and good choices.
With that said, I found this scenario repeating itself:
Things would be getting interesting, and I would get caught up in the story; then inevitably the author would spoil it by trying too hard, putting too much emphasis on some event or detail, to make sure it made an impact. That would derail the natural progression, and make that part of the story seem overdone and almost tawdry.
With the exception of numerous sentence fragments, I believe the author is better than that. I think she has enough skill and natural talent to avoid that effect, if she just exercised a little subtlety.
Then again, there were times when she was perhaps a bit too subtle, when I would re-read several pages over again, trying to figure out what it was that I had missed. Something would happen, and reactions would follow, but I never quite understood what had happened originally. This occurred three or four times in the book, and only one of them was ever resolved for me. Maybe if the entire book had been this understated, I would have accepted it as a style and found it intriguing, but it was offset by the bouts of heavy-handedness.
All in all, I am glad I read this book. The degree of involvement of bees and honey within the storyline was really the best part of the book, and the idea of bee/honey-related magic was irresistible to me. It was new and interesting, and I’d even read a sequel to this book if there was one… but I’ll admit I’d prefer it if the idea was taken on by a different author and handled differently.