Chalice by Robin McKinley Once upon a time and quite unexpectedly, a young beekeeper named Mirasol was chosen to be the new Chalice for her demesne, the Willowlands. She is the first Chalice ever to hold her Chalice in honey rather than the standard wine or water. The previous Master and his Chalice both died in an irresponsible accident, the Master without an Heir and the Chalice without an Apprentice. Now the Master’s younger brother has been called back to serve as Master – but he is a Third Level Priest of Elemental Fire, mostly fire now with only vague memories of being human. Even so, Mirasol can tell that he has a better understanding of what the Willowlands needs than his brother did. Neither Mirasol nor the reader knows very much about what the job of Chalice involves, besides giving the ritual chalices at the Circle’s ceremonies, and being able to feel and hopefully mend Willowland’s fraying earthlines. Things are not necessarily going well, but might get better as she and the new Master have more time to learn their roles. But there isn’t more time. Some members of the Circle have sent to the Overlord for a new, outblood Heir. And Mirasol knows that Willowlands will fall apart if it is forced to accept yet another new Master after the devastation left by the old one.
Well, none of my regular readers should be surprised that I love this book. Robin McKinley is one of my top five authors for a reason. The world system in this one felt complex, but since our main character understood only a little more about it than the reader, this gave it a dreamy, Enya-like feel rather than a “you must memorize the whole world to enjoy this book” feel. There is quite a bit here about honey and bees. I’ve only tried making mead once or twice, but honey has always felt magical to me and I’ve never seen a fantasy book where the bees were as magic as they feel in real life. I could only wish that the land in our world would tell someone as clearly when it needed to be fixed – though the scale of wrongness on troubled earthlines is of course far worse. But underneath all of these beautiful details is a straightforward but powerful story of the transformative power of love. It’s Beauty and the Beast again, McKinley said on her blog. Every story she writes is Beauty and the Beast. I wouldn’t have noticed without her saying so, but of course she’s right. And she has come up with yet another stunningly beautiful way to retell the story.