by Robin McKinley

When the Master and Chalice die unexpectedly both without apprentices, their land is sent into a devastating upheaval.  The remaining members of the Circle are forced to make choices and consult the rods to find replacements for these two most important people of the demesne.  The Grand Seneschal makes the decision to call back the deceased Master’s younger brother from the priests of Fire where he has been for seven years, but can an elemental priest who is no longer truly human learn to once again to live among people and be a good Master?  The rods tell the circle that their new Chalice shall be a young woman named Mirasol who keeps a small woodlot and is known for her amazing honey.  Mirasol is shocked by her new calling but must obey for she can feel that the land needs her even if she does not know what exactly it needs her to do.  so Mirasol begins her journey as Chalice.  She muddles through with books as her teachers and only her bees for company because most of the Circle looks down upon her and avoids her.  When the new Master arrives from the fire, the Circle treat him in much the same manner except that they also greatly fear him but Mirasol believes in her new Master and hopes that he can bring peace and cohesion to the upset demesne.  While progress is slow, Mirasol, as Chalice, feels the demesne calming, until the Overlord sends an Outblood (one not from the demesne) to stand in as the Master’s heir.  It is clear that the Overlord intend to usurp the position of the new Master and put his own heir in place.  Can the new Chalice and Master fight the Overlord and his heir to keep their land in peace?

Reaction: I liked the idea of the story and there were moments of brilliance in the writing but overall I felt there was something missing.  My beefs with the book: 1. It had a very confusing timeline.  Sometimes I couldn’t tell if we were in the past or present.  The fact that the book did not contain chapters but four large parts could have added to this confusion.  The set up was not helpful to someone who only had small chunks of time in which to read.  Every time I had to put the book down and pick it back up later it took me awhile to reorient myself with the story.  2. There was a lot of repetition.  Sometimes I liked this because it had the feeling of an oral history, like I was being told a story instead of reading it.  Other times (most times) it was kind of annoying.  I wanted to say, “I know!”  3.  The unanswered questions.  I’m ok with not know exactly what happened to the previous Master and Chalice.  Enough info was given that I can at least piece together a general idea of what happened and that their reign was bad for the demesne.  I’m also ok with not exactly knowing the hierarchy of all the lands.  It is enough to know that a Master rules the land with the Chalice and a Circle but they are still responsible to an Overlord.  I would have liked to have a more clear depiction of all the members of this very important Circle and their responsibilities and purposes.  The Circle’s huge to the story and I don’t particularly understand it.  The biggest thing I would like to know is, what’s up with the Elemental priests?  What are their purposes?  Why are people sent to them to become priests?  I mean, the new Master was a third level Fire priest yet I have no idea what that means other than his eyes are red, his skin is black, and he can burn human flesh.  What good is that?  4. Finally, what was with the abrupt ending?  Something happened, then, bam it was over.  How did it happen?  And was Mirasol’s journey for nothing, because it certainly seemed that way.

Sigh.  I love Robin McKinley’s imagination.  This was a wonderful concept for a tale but, for me at least, the execution was off.  From reading Amazon reviews, I am in the minority.

FYI: For those who also are unfamiliar with this word, demesne (according to wikipedia; great source, I know) is a term used in a feudal system for land granted to a lord for his use.  You can definitely get the meaning from context, but the pronunciation!  That baffled me.  For those inquiring minds, it is pronounced /dəmeɪn/ [dih-MANE] or /dəmiːn/ [dih-MEEN].  I reminds me of “domain” which is similar and fitting.  If you read Chalice, you will see the word “demesne” upteen million times, so now you will be prepared with how to say it in your head.  :)


About Casey

I am a librarian who loves all things reading, especially teen literature.
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