Chalice, Robin McKinley
I don’t know why I keep coming back to this book — one I originally gave just three stars — but I think this is probably the fourth time I’ve read it. This time, because I saw a copy for three euros in Dublin and just had to, had to, had to; up to now, I didn’t actually have my own copy, which you can imagine was annoying and of course I had to rectify it.
I think the thing is, it’s such a warm story. Mirasol and the Master’s relationship is so tentative, so careful; their attempts to reach out to the land they’re bound to and heal the things that have happened are so conscientious, untutored, sometimes even desperate, and yet they never give up. And I love all the domestic details: the honey, the woodrights, all the sensory stuff that comes with the honey… And the idea of the Chalice, both the office and the object, her duty to bind the Circle and all the little details of how to do that.
I also think it’s a very hopeful book, in the same sort of way as The Goblin Emperor or Uprooted, other books I’ve liked more recently. Okay, there is a conflict, but the outcome is almost totally positive, and the main characters seek as much as they can to avoid conflict. It’s gentle, calm, and thus calming.
I imagine I’ll reread it again sometime in the future.
This week’s theme is an interesting one: ten books I feel differently about now time has passed. There’s a lot of books I feel that way about from when I was a kid, of course, but I’ll try to go for more recent stuff.
- Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood. I reaaaally changed my opinion on this one, and ended up devouring the whole series. But the first time I tried it, I hated it.
- The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always liked reading it, but I’ve gone through periods of being more or less critical. There was one point where I didn’t dare reread it, because I thought I’d find it too racist, sexist, simplistic… But thanks to Ursula Le Guin’s writing on Tolkien’s work, and then studying it during my MA, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. A lot of the things people complain about post-Tolkien fantasy really are post-Tolkien — he didn’t bring them in. Derivativeness, lack of thought about the implications of this choice or that on the world — I’ve come to see that lack of thought was never Tolkien’s problem, though it has been a problem for people after him.
- The Diamond Throne, David Eddings. I’ve had a long succession of feelings about this too; loved it and thought it really romantic as a kid, grew up and thought it was crappy and derivative, but recently I reread a bit and thought it was kind of funny anyway. (Even if Sparhawk and Ehlana is actually a creepy relationship.)
- Chalice, Robin McKinley. I think I originally gave this one three stars, but I keep thinking about it and I’ve read it again since and I just… I love it.
- Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. Didn’t love this the first time, fell right into it on a reread. The right book at the right time, I guess.
- The Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin. This is less one that I’ve got to like more, and more one I appreciate more. I’m still not a big fan of it and wouldn’t idly pick it up the way I would, say, The Tombs of Atuan. But I see its purpose and beauty.
- Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I loved this at the time, but I don’t know if it’d stand up to that now. I’m a little afraid to try, so I think that counts for the list?
- Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. I know in how many ways this is exploitative and so on, but I did love this at one point. Another one I don’t think I’ll try again.
- Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. I might like this more now that I read more romance, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My opinion got worse and worse as I read more of her books.
- The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart. The misogyny drove me mad the first time, but I actually appreciated parts of it more the second time.
That was… harder than I expected. Although I was also distracted by being a backseat driver to my partner playing Assassin’s Creed.
This week’s theme is books you’d like to see as movies/tv shows. The proviso here is that I would want appropriate casting, e.g. not a white man for Ged or Patriot.
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin. Shush. There hasn’t been one. Doesn’t exist.
- Captain Marvel. Sooner than planned, please. And keep in the recent bit about her dating Rhodey!
- Young Avengers. You’ve got all the ingredients ready, Marvel. Dooo iiiiiittttt.
- Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas. It could be really epic, and it’d require a female lead who could do stunts and would need a good range of acting skills.
- A Natural History of Dragons, Mary Brennan. I’m not sure how well it’d translate to the big screen, but again, it’d require a female lead and it’d be a little bit like Walking With Dinosaurs, only dragons and fiction.
- The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. Do Arthur right!
- Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. In the right hands, it would be beautiful.
- Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Female lead who is both a reluctant hero type and a baker. Interesting vampire lore, gorgeous imagery. It’d be amazing, right?
- Farthing, Jo Walton. Could serve as a timely warning to a country embracing conservatism right now, too.
- Bloodshot, Cherie Priest. Weird found-family dynamics, kickass female lead, ex-Navy SEAL drag queen? Okay, there’d be so many ways for them to mess it up, but we’re talking an ideal world here, and it would be so very right.
Gaah, gimme them. Nowww.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____”. So, because I’m predictable like that, let’s have my top ten characters who love books!
- Matilda, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I don’t know about anyone else, but I used to sit and stare at things and wish I could have powers like Matilda. But even better would’ve been to read as fast as her.
- Mori, from Jo Walton’s Among Others. I think this one is extra-specially predictable. Shush.
- Hermione Granger, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. I’m in the middle of my rereads of these books and remembering just how much I loved Hermione — I was that know-it-all who sucked up to the teachers, though I didn’t have such good and loyal friends as Harry and Ron surrounding me. And unfortunately, I still didn’t have powers.
- Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Why is this list so populated with people like me…?
- Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries. Well, she’s more of a writer and we don’t see her reading much, but we do see her engaging with literature, and practically sparring with Peter via quotations from books.
- Beauty, in Robin McKinley’s Beauty. Gimme the Beast’s library, please.
- Alec, from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I suddenly remembered a scene with Richard bringing Alec a book and the hunger Alec seemed to feel about it…
- Jean, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Jean!
- Memer, from Ursula Le Guin’s Voices. I need to reread this one now I’ve remembered about it!
- Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I think I actually came across Jo and Matilda not that far apart in time. Both of them lived in a world of books that only encouraged me to read more!
That was actually harder than I anticipated. Huh. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people are going with!
This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is top ten characters you want to check in on after the story is done. This is an awesome one — there are so many characters I wonder about!
- Anyone from The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). Don’t make me choose (obviously I’d choose Maia and his wife if I had to). I know she’s not going to write a sequel (as such), so I feel free to wonder about aaaaall of the characters. And I love them all, and even those who aren’t nice… I want to know how things end up.
- Faramir from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). Total literary crush, ’nuff said. Plus, he’s with Eowyn, so you get a twofer there.
- Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s Middle-earth becomes our Europe, after all. What happens to the Ents? Where are they hiding?
- Caspian from Prince Caspian/Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C.S. Lewis). All of the books could’ve been about Caspian and Lucy having adventures and I’d have been happy.
- The Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman). He’s so awesome, and we know so little about him. Need to knooooowwww.
- Vetch from A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin). He was so faithful to Ged, and yet we don’t really know what happened to him.
- Esca from The Eagle of the Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliff). We get a little bit of an idea what’s going to happen, but I want to know eveeerything.
- Mori from Among Others (Jo Walton). I know a certain amount of this is autobiographical, and I know Jo a little. But I want to know about Mori, where she goes, what she does. It could be anything.
- Peter Carmichael from the Small Change trilogy (Jo Walton). We don’t end the trilogy with him in a good place. At all. I want to see him heal. Or not. I want to see what happens to him and to society.
- Con from Sunshine (Robin McKinley). I love the vampire lore in this book, love the awkward alliance/bond that forms between Con and Sunshine. Give me moooore.
I wonder how weird my choices are compared to everyone else’s… Drop by and let me know!
This week’s topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a great one: top ten heroines. Let’s see…
- Yeine, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Seriously, seriously kickass lady who navigates politics, would prefer a fair fight, and becomes a goddess. Why not?
- Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. That was always my favourite book of the bunch. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Tenar is strong in a way that has nothing to do with physical strength.
- Mori, from Among Others by Jo Walton. Because she’s quite a lot like me, only she really can see fairies and she has a streak of pragmatism I could really use.
- Harriet Vane, from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bit of a change of pace from the first three, being a different genre. But she’s a woman in a man’s world, pursuing both writing and academia, a strong woman who knows her own mind and sticks to her principles. But at the same time, she’s not perfect: she snarls at Peter, she’s unfair, etc, etc.
- Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, from Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If there’s anything that can hold her back, I don’t know what it is. She’s gorgeous, she’s a spy, she manipulates politics and gets involved in all kinds of stuff on behalf of her country.
- Katherine Talbert, from The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Even if she doesn’t want to learn to fight at first.
- Ki, from Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Practical, determined, fierce, and good to her animals, to her friends.
- Caitrin, from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to be a strong person at first, yet she learns to face her fears — without it ever seeming too easy.
- Mirasol, from Chalice by Robin McKinley. She’s thrown in at the deep end, with very little gratefulness or support from those around her, and she pushes through it to do whatever she has to do.
- Csethiro Celedin, from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. She basically says that if anyone hurts Maia she’ll duel them and gut them. Like!
I’m gonna have to look at loads of posts on this one, because stories with good heroines are definitely of interest to me!
The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
Wow, I don’t know why I didn’t really like The Hero and the Crown very much on the first go round. It’s full of all the kinds of things I love: love stories that aren’t just simple love-at-first-sight or we-grew-up-together-and-now-we’re-in-love, but something more complicated that that; a world with a history and a future, outside of what we’ve got; a heroine who works through flaws and barriers to become a hero. And the last sentences — ach! Lovely.
It’s not some straightforward children’s story in which a heroine goes forth and slays a dragon. That happens, but it happens as part of a longer journey: the dragon isn’t the end, but only really the beginning of Aerin’s journey. It doesn’t solve all her issues and let her go home unscathed, unchanged, to a court that’s suddenly ready to accept her. Aerin’s story is harder than that.
Looking at my old review/notes on this, I was disappointed by the worldbuilding — which I think is funny, because though it’s subtle, there’s plenty here. The surka, the crown, old heroes, Luthe’s background, why the animals follow Aerin: there’s so much that doesn’t get elucidated, but remains there for you to turn over and wonder at. McKinley doesn’t give you all the answers about her world in one go, and I doubt that The Blue Sword will answer all of it either. Maybe you have to do a little more work to really appreciate the history of the world, because McKinley does nothing so clumsy as sit you in a history lesson with Aerin to learn about it.
Overall, given the subtlety of parts of this and the wistfulness of the love stories, I’m not entirely sure how I’d have taken this as a child. It may be a prime example of a story that works on two levels: Aerin waving her sword around for younger readers, winning the day with her prowess, while the older readers might taste more of the bittersweetness of her immortality and her twin-nature.
What have you recently finished reading?
Tooth & Claw, by Jo Walton. I had this vague impression of not being a big fan of it, but I think it must’ve caught me at a bad time originally, because actually, I love it. Ah, the benefits of rereading. I can’t help giggling every time I see a review complaining about the cannibalism, too… “Oh no, these dragons don’t act enough like humans!”
What are you currently reading?
Reread of The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley) — I’ve been needing familiar things. I need to finish The Just City (Jo Walton); it’s on my bedside table, but I haven’t wanted to be venturesome the last couple weeks. Not a good brain-week, this.
What will you read next?
I’ll finish up The Just City (Jo Walton) and Shadows (Robin McKinley), and then I want to get round to rereading Heart’s Blood (Juliet Marillier), before I lose the thread of my Beauty and the Beast themed reading.
This week’s theme is “Top Ten Books I’d Like to Reread”, which is a topic just made for me — the first one in a while I think I could talk for ages about — because I love rereading. Honourable mentions in advance to Chalice and The Hobbit, both of which I already reread recently! And I’m just going to leave it unsaid that I want to reread The Dark is Rising books, since I do that every year.
- Seaward, Susan Cooper. I’ve been meaning to reread this for a while. Heck, by the time this post goes live, I might’ve got round to it already. It’s beautifully written, a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, and I love the characters a lot. I read it right through the day I got it, I think, at Christmas a couple of years ago. And then I made my partner read it, and my mother, and… everyone else I could get my hands on, really.
- The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay. I think this might be the next book in my chronological-by-publishing-date reread of GGK’s work. I think it’s my mother’s favourite of GGK’s books, and my partner loves it too; I remember liking it, though it wasn’t my favourite, but it’s one of the few I’ve only read once so far (along with Under Heaven, which is too new for me to have reread yet).
- Sunshine, Robin McKinley. This is another I might’ve got round to already by the time this post goes live, because I’m tearing a streak through Robin McKinley’s work lately. Sunshine is one of my favourites; the world-building, the characters and their relationships, all the talk about food… And also, vampires done right, so that they’re genuinely fucking freaky, even Our Hero.
- Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey. And pretty much everything by Carey, actually. I love the richness of her writing, and the intrigues of the court in Terre D’Ange. Honestly, if it wasn’t for all the sex and BDSM in the book, I’d recommend it to everyone, because the actual world-building is really cool. But I’m aware it’s not something everyone can be comfortable with.
- The Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff. I could swear I’ve already talked about wanting to reread this somewhere on the blog, but I can’t find it. I did start a reread recently, but then got interrupted. I’m particularly curious because just before I first read this, my partner and I were working on an original world/plot that was very, very similar in many ways. And I’m looking forward to the relationship between the three main characters, and the way the situation turns out for them all. It’s sweet, feel-good stuff.
- The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell. I’ve always loved the way Cornwell handles the legends. Okay, some of his characters really don’t fit with the legends, and I do like the legends, but at the same time he has one of the most likeable versions of Galahad, and a really interesting take on the magic/reality stuff where the narrator can view it as magic and we can dismiss it as trickery, or maybe not quite.
- The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. And the rest of the series. It’s easy to read, fun, and does interesting things with the character, the world, etc. I’m less a fan of the most recent book, but I’m still going to try rereading it.
- The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin. The whole series, really, but this one is my favourite. It marks a separation from the world of the first book, which is fairly conventional fantasy, and begins to shape a place for women and a different view of the world that’s more in line with Le Guin’s own beliefs. And she’s so good at writing the small clear moments of quiet that really shine (Ged’s hand and the thistle).
- Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb. It’s been a long time, and I miss Fitz, Nighteyes and Verity. (My mother never liked Verity nearly as much as I do, but I find him one of the most genuine characters of the lot — not subtle, not perfect for his job, but doing what he can and making good despite the difficulty.) And there’s a new Fool trilogy now, which I even got an ARC for originally, so I want to reread everything to get back up to speed for it.
- Sorcerer’s Treason, Sarah Zettel. I remember these being good books, using a less typically Western fantasy setting, with a lot of Russian influence and I think later Asian? I remember finding it very different, at any rate, and I do like Zettel’s work. So, soooon. I hope.
Any of these your own special favourite? Let me know! I comment back to everyone who comments here, both on my post and on your own if you’ve done one.
Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley
Definitely not my favourite of McKinley’s works — I thought I’d like it more than Beauty, and in one sense I do, in that something that bothers me about the ending of Beauty is addressed here and a different sort of ending written. I like the world, the sisters, the domestic stuff that (as usual) McKinley shines with. I liked the castle and Beauty’s work there, and the way other little bits of fairytale lore come in (like her experiential seven days spent in the Beast’s castle versus seven months for her sisters). It’s also notable that the way Beauty and the Beast relate to each other is very similar to in Beauty; the differences are more in a more complicated setup with slightly different inputs producing a slightly different trajectory.
My main complaint the first time I read this was that the greenwitch at the end has far too much explaining to do, in quite a short span of pages, and that remains problematic to me. Some things needed a bit more opening out, foreshadowing, something, to prevent a long stretch of infodump via dialogue.
Still enjoyable, though, and the writing is gorgeous, of course.