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Friday, February 06, 2009

Chalice, by Robin McKinley

Chalice, by Robin McKinley, was published in 1998. (Wikipedia article on book.) McKinley has been writing and publishing fantastic literature for at least 30 years.

Some of her work has been re-telling of familiar stories, such as Beauty and the Beast, or Robin Hood. Such re-telling has been original. McKinley has added much detail, added characters, and, generally, made the stories her own. In Chalice, she has built a medieval-like fantasy world that doesn't depend on a story told already.

I won't give away the plot, except to say that everyone who deserves to finds happiness in the end. For more on the plot, see the Wikipedia article.

I will explain the title. The Chalice is a member of the Circle of a demesne, serving under the Master. The Circle's job is to maintain order, not only among the people, but in the crops, forests, and rivers. The Chalice's role is to prepare suitable drinks, or fluids to be poured out over, say, a bad field or a sick animal. She is second only to the Master of the Circle in her power to help maintain or restore order.

I will also say something about religion in the book. There is a priesthood -- in fact there are three -- Earth, Air, and Fire. We do not learn much about the practices of that priesthood, except that we learn that a person entering a priesthood is gradually transformed, both physically and mentally, so that eventually a priest is definitely not a normal human, and has difficulty even interacting with normal humans.

The Circle somehow relies on supernatural guidance. This is most dramatic in the selection of new Circle members, and involves divination of some sort. The Chalice, in this book, is untrained and needs guidance. She does not pray, apparently, but it seems obvious that she seeks such guidance, and has received it, in ways that she does not understand, herself.

McKinley is almost always a good read. (I didn't like the subject matter of Sunshine, but have found her other books to be well written and uplifting.) Thanks for reading.

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