Chalice by Robin McKinley – Review

Book Jacket:

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?

Robin McKinley weaves a captivating tale that reveals the healing power of duty and honor, love and honey.

You can read an excerpt here.


This story is as dense and delicious as the honey it revolves around.

Robin McKinley once again envelopes the reader with her storytelling, leading us along a wandering narrative that purposefully spirals you toward the moment of crises. Her style is distinctly non-linear, and her language is slow, viscous, and sweet. This book is not a quick read, but it is utterly engrossing.

With Chalice, McKinley returns to her favorite theme – the meeting of two worlds and the woman caught between them. Mirasol has been thrown into the deep end and is desperately trying to learn how to swim; with no formal training in magic or politics, she is suddenly responsible for reconciling an impossible situation, and if she fails, the land will fall apart. The magic that binds the demense is breaking, and they need a Master to fix it – but the only one they have is no longer entirely of their world, not quite human. He returns to do his duty, a nearly impossible magical feat, only to find both political and magical forces arrayed against even the slim chance of his success. Mirasol must somehow help him, so the magic can accept him, but she has no idea how she is supposed to do it. With everything falling apart, it all comes down to her.

McKinley has made Mirasol the perfect blend of desperate and determined – Mirasol is smart, capable, and entirely in over her head. Her confusion, her awakening magical abilities, and her mistakes unfold beautifully, giving coherence to this roundabout narrative. Mirasol and The Master’s relationship is sweet and understated – there are feelings implied but never overtly stated – and it adds a sweet undertone to their desperation. There is also a wonderful surrealistic flavor to this book, as it shows us how magic bends Mirasol’s reality, and how alien the Master’s otherness is. This story is truly unique, giving us a new world with a new style of magic – fantasy as it should be.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again – McKinley’s style of writing is extremely polarizing, of the love or hate variety. If you like a magic-laced, otherwordly fairy tale, then this is definitely a book for you.

Deliberate and flavorful, Chalice melts on the mind like honey melts on the tongue.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Samantha Holloway for the New York Journal of Books says:

Underlying it all is Robin McKinley’s love of sumptuous detail and clean understanding of how people are, how they live, and how they think. Everyone comes across as real, with goals and motivations of their own, and the world is awkward and hard enough to be realistic, but dangerous enough and strange enough to be beautiful and addictive. The book is sometimes a little difficult to understand, but it’s almost impossible to put down, perhaps because of the slight spur of not understanding and the way it relates the reader to the main character’s place in the world, combined with the lushness of the world.

Charlotte’s Library says:

Chalice…is a delight. A land of troubled magic, bee-keeping, and a strong and book savvy heroine combine in a captivating story…Great characters, great story, magical honey, and a strong love of place that all of us who tend our own pieces of land can understand. Not to mention the bits of romance, understated but intense. A great read for anyone 10 years or so and up.

Em’s Bookshelf says:

With its magical elements and its down-to-earth heroine, Chalice is one of the best fairy tales I’ve read this year….As I was reading this book, I wished that I was in the middle of a forest with a pot of honey beside me. This book is perfect for anyone who likes fairy tales or strong heroines.