keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
Chalice
by Robin McKinley
263 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Mirasol is a common beekeeper unexpectedly named the Willowlands' Chalice, a member of the ruling Circle second only to the Master--who is a third-level priest of Fire barely returned from the temple and not quite human. The usual power-grab complications ensue.

This was interesting but not absorbing; and I was only a little freaked out by the bees. (I'm just glad I don't live in the Willowlands, because I physically could not deal with that in real life. Fiction, though, is okay.) The societal structure appears very patriarchal--Chalice is always female, Master is always male, and the two remain unchanged, stereotypically gendered roles. I also disliked the unrounded, too-EVIL antagonist (not Deager, the Overlord). I guessed from the start that Mirasol and the Master would triumph and live happily ever after; the weird flashback-as-memory narrative structure implicitly promises a happy ending, and it would probably have worked better without cover blurb spoilers.

I hear that Chalice is not among McKinley's best works. Definitely not in the mood for fairytale retellings anytime soon, but what else does she have to offer? This one was not bad at all, just not outstanding. I did like the magic and political systems, the former twisting elemental tradition just a bit to be interesting.
keilexandra: Adorable panda with various Chinese overlays. (Default)
A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories
by Robin McKinley
192 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

A small collection of five McKinley short stories. All are strongly YA with young protagonists, life lessons, and plain prose; but the protagonists are compelling, the plots are suspenseful, and the prose is easily unobstrusive. McKinley writes with teens in mind without shying away from risks--(implied) premarital sex, a twist on the traditional Happily Ever After, girl proposing marriage to boy, and symbolism throughout are presented as a matter of fact.

My favorite story was "The Stagman," which deals with arranged marriage, different kinds of love, and quiet feminism. The last (and title) story, "A Knot in the Grain," is the only one that didn't work for me. It's set in the modern world and attempts a magic-realism mood but doesn't quite succeed. The result is a typical plotline (girl moves to new town, reminisces about her old friends) with vague hinting at magic. McKinley should stick to fantasy, which she excels at.

Recommended for fantasy readers of all ages, excepting the last story.

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January 2011

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