Please don't count how many old "reviews" of mine say "review later", "more later", or variations thereupon. ... Actually, just ignore my blog until further notice.
As with my last Robin McKinley reading experience, I've come away with mixed emotions.
First off, I want to say that I admire Robin McKinley. I do. She inspired some of my favorite authors, she's got a lot of solid books to her name, I don't think it's exaggerating to say she's changed the way people look at female characters in fantasy genres--even my oldest brother, not the most feministic guy I know, proudly professes to having read most of her books and enjoying them.
And I wanted to love Chalice, much as I wanted to love Hero and the Crown. I ended up liking both, but both stories fell short of the "love" factor for me, and I'd like to explain why.
Robin McKinley is known for a few fairy tale adaptations. I haven't gotten around to them yet, but I do wonder if this works against her a little. Think about how fairy tales go. The writing is impersonal, character development takes a back seat to whimsicality, and they're not quite book material. Stories, yes. Tales, yes. But not warranting complete novels unless you do some serious tweaking.
This summarizes my main problem with Chalice. In theory, it was all there. Willowlands has a culture and a troubled past. Cool concepts like the new Master being too much Fire and not enough human that he can scarcely accept his new responsibility. The many responsibilities of Circle members, Chalice in particular. How there can even be different kinds of Chalices, whether water, wine, honey (like Mirasol), or in one case a blood Chalice? I'd want to read a book just about her! That's imagination. It was the thought of what McKinley could do with this that kept me reading.
But it felt incomplete to me. We don't learn much of the meaning behind Chalice's bindings and ceremonial rites (though this may be because Mirasol has to piece a lot of it together without help; maybe we're meant to share in her confusion). All the Circle members except the Seneschal, the Master, and Mirasol, are titles and nothing more. A lot of other characters are just names, and with no personalities to identify them, they get mixed up easily. There were so many paragraphs spent on varieties of honey and Circle ceremonies that I wish were dedicated to character development, or explaining why things worked the way they did. Would Mirasol's bindings at the end have worked if her bees hadn't killed the Heir? How did the bees make the Master human again??? Mirasol and the Master didn't have enough scenes together for the implied marriage at the end to feel satisfying--and didn't the book Mirasol read say that a marriage between Chalice and Master was not just unusual, but forbidden? That a Master could not touch his Chalice? Did I make that up?
Also, while the writing is pretty and McKinley obviously has her own style figured out, it's not very reader-friendly. Much of the book is told in flashbacks, sometimes even flashbacks within flashbacks, until I didn't understand what the present was. I often say that I have to read some sentences of books multiple times to understand them, but with Chalice that was taken to a whole new level. There were lots of spots that could have used more commas and less flip-flopped phrases. I've found that I much prefer remembering the book to reading it.
All this ranting may make it seem as if I hate the book. I don't! It just didn't ever grab hold of me, make me fall in love with it.
That said, I fully intend to pick up other books of Robin McKinley's in the future. Even if I feel about them the way I do about Chalice, McKinley at her worst couldn't be bad enough to be considered a waste of time.