Chalice by Robin McKinley.
Chalice is an intimate little fantasy. Less concerned with great actions than with a very personal view of the story it presents. The titular character is Mirasol. She is the Chalice of her demesne, binding together the Master and the Circle. She isn’t prepared for it. The authority is thrust upon her as the authority of the mastership is thrust upon the Master when his brother suddenly dies. Mirasol is suddenly burdened by far more responsibility than she ever thought would be hers. Her experience mirrors the Master’s; he was studying to be a priest of fire and is no longer thought to be entirely human anymore.
The action of the book rests on the question of whether the Master can remain in his position or if he will have to be replaced because of his unsuitability. Because Mirasol is in a similar position she has much more sympathy for the Master than the rest of the Circle. This book continues McKinley’s work of examining not fantasy but people. Mirasol, like Beauty or Sunshine (titular heroines in her other novels) is a person trying to do her best in a bad situation. While she does have some “power” her virtue lies in enduring the times she is living and not giving up when circumstances are grim.
I liked this book but it did not leave the impression that some of McKinley’s other works have. I had to look up the main character’s name. This story struck me as very quiet and unassuming. The scope of the story the Mirasol is experiencing seems very small at times and her vision of the world is very narrow. It is almost as if McKinley’s device of telling the story through Mirasol’s perceptions and feelings takes a small happening and focuses it too tightly. The climax of the novel redeems the previous narrow focus and is knuckle-bitingly tense. Still, she ends the novel somewhat precipitously and wraps it all up a little too neatly.
An enjoyable read but not this author’s finest work.