initial review here).
In Chalice, Mirasol, a beekeeper and woods-tender must learn to help run her segment of the country while trying to bring the lord of the land back from his near-total transformation to an inhuman priest of fire. She must also contend with political intrigues she barely understands. It is not made easier by the fact that, while she is a very good beekeeper, she was never trained in the rituals of her new status and has no training at all in politics.
Chalice is a leisurely read, perfect for a relaxed day. A lot of it focuses on Mirasol's daily life as she tends her bees, studies her new role, and tries to apply the things she used as a beekeeper to life as a Chalice--someone who comforts the land and sees to the people's daily needs.
This is one of Mckinley's many retellings of Beauty and the Beast, and it shares some of the traits with Beauty and Rose Daughter. As with those, the heroine has some special bonding to the land and, as with those, she has a mundane talent that helps keep her anchored in the magical world. Where Beauty/Honor loved her horses and her books, and Rose Daughter Beauty knew and loved roses, Mirasol knows bees and plant care, and draws both her magical and practical strength from their presence. In all three cases, the seemingly trivial aids in the large.
This is not to say the books are mere echoes of one another. They aren't, not by a long shot. Chalice stands up well on its own with hints of a long history and tradition that I was dying to learn more about. Much as I loved Mirasol, I also loved the land she lived in and I wanted to see more of it. I wish there were going to be a sequel! There's room for a sequel, but of course there never will be. McKinley never writes sequels--Except when she does--see Pegasus and Blue Sword (sort of)).
Bookshelves of Doom
Links of Interest
Chalice on Amazon
Robin Mckinley's home page. The spot where you can find out which book is coming up next and why the book coming out this year isn't the Pegasus sequel but another book entirely (but Pegasus II is coming, and I'm definitely planning on reading Shadows) and other such items. Also there's plenty on the absence of sequels, and some on gardening, and lots of footnotes.