My life is in reverse now. I live ten minutes away from the sea. I vacation in the city. Ever since I moved, I haven't really been able to finish a new book (and I bought a lot of lovely titles with me). I'd start one but would almost always end up bookmarking it and leaving it somewhere else. Every book I've finished reading in November have all been rereads, and it was only during my short vacation in Manila that I was able to close the cover on a new title: Robin McKinley's Chalice, devoured in one sitting.
Chalice is an engaging fantasy, very quiet and descriptive. Dialogue is sparse, but what little there is shines with expression. It is a tale of Mirasol, plucked from her life as a beekeeper and named Chalice of the Willowlands. Being Chalice means being part of a Circle of honored individuals. As second in power only to the Master, it is her duty to bind their demesne. But their demesne has been broken with the deaths of the former Master and Chalice. With no one to guide her, Mirasol has to rely on her own knowledge and perseverance to meet her heavy task. She must stand by the new Master, an elemental priest called back from the Fire, now more elemental than human and together they struggle to keep their land whole despite dangers and threats from outside and within.
This is not a sweeping fantasy of dragons and magic. Instead, it is a subdued piece, a character study, a tale of strength and duty and healing. What I enjoyed most about it is Ms McKinley's subtlety, the lovely way that she draws on natural elements (in this case, bees and honey) to anchor her writing, the strong and blossoming friendship between Mirasol and her Master. She invites the readers to be part of Mirasol's journey, her fears and insecurities to her inevitable triumph. I felt that it buoyed me along, buoyed me enough to keep me from wanting to put it down. Chalice was truly the perfect fantasy in visit in the middle of my wet and grey December.