is a 2008 novel by Robin McKinley
, set in the demesne of Willowlands. Willowlands' Master
and his Chalice have recently died under less than pleasant circumstances, and the late Master's older brother has been called back from his initiation into the priesthood of elemental Fire to take over as the demesne's new Master - to some opposition, since becoming a priest of Fire has left him no longer entirely human.
Mirasol was a simple beekeeper before she was unexpectedly called upon to take over as the demesne's new Chalice, in which position she must somehow make the transition to a new and not-quite-human Master work smoothly in spite of her own inexperience in the role. If she can't, the consequences will affect the entire demesne, which is already in an unstable condition thanks to the previous Master.
Unfortunately, not very many people - including Mirasol herself - have a lot of confidence in her ability to adequately fill the role of Chalice. Even fewer are willing to put any faith in their strange new Master. And if Mirasol and the new Master can't make themselves secure enough in their roles as the demesne's leaders, there are people ready and waiting to take advantage of their weakness to sieze control - even if it causes the Willowlands to tear itself apart in the process.
Chalice contains examples of the following tropes:
- All Girls Like Ponies: As usual for McKinley's work. Mirasol doesn't have her own pony, but has an established affection for the House's ponies and handles them well.
- Bee Bee Gun: Mirasol's power as Chalice causes her bees to behave in some very unusual ways.
- Contrived Clumsiness: One of the primary antagonists uses a very malicious form of fake clumsiness to set the Master up for a Morton's Fork: he "trips" within the Master's reach, forcing the Master - a former priest of elemental fire - to choose between catching and involuntarily burning him (an insult) or letting him fall (also an insult).
- Cool Horse: Generally played around with throughout the story. The previous Master was fond of fast, fancy, high-strong horses, while both Mirasol and the current Master favor fat, staid, entirely unimpressive ponies. On the other hand, those ponies prove to be extremely steady and dependable when their riders need them to be, which is exactly why they favor them in the first place.
- Elemental Powers:
- The new Master is a priest of Elemental Fire and can not only control that element, he's partly composed of it.
- Every Chalice has an elemental affinity through which they employ their power. It's normally water or wine, but rarer cases are mentioned of Chalices who work best through more unusual liquids such as brine, milk, and blood. Mirasol's power works through honey.
- Fisher King: Each demesne has not only a Fisher King Master, but an entire Fisher Court composed of twelve members: Master, Chalice, Grand Seneschal, Prelate, and the "minor circle" composed of the Clearseer, Keepfast, Landsman, Oakstaff, Sunbrightener, Talisman, Weatheraugur, and (presumably) an eighth member whose title isn't mentioned anywhere in the book. If the Master, Chalice, and the rest of the court don't properly live up to their roles, the entire demesne suffers in all manner of ways.
- Heroic Suicide: Subverted. The Master is all set to throw himself on his challenger's sword during their Trial by Combat, in the hopes that his voluntary sacrifice will keep the land from tearing itself apart during the transition to a new (and foreign) Master. However, Mirasol and her enormous swarm of bees object very strenuously to his plan.
- Morton's Fork: Via Contrived Clumsiness. Whether the Master catches his liege lord and burns him, or lets him fall, it's an insult sufficient to allow an outsider to challenge him to a duel.
- No Name Given: Most of the members of the Circle are only known by their titles, including the Master and the Grand Senechal. Mirasol only finds out their names at the end of the book.
- Playing with Fire: The Master's power as a priest of Fire.
- Utility Magic: For most of the story, the most obvious effect of Mirasol's power as Chalice is that it makes her bees remarkably docile and productive, and her tiny farm supernaturally fruitful.
- What a Piece of Junk: The ponies in Chalice are pretty alleged by Damarian standards (the Master's older brother certainly seemed to think so), until you realize that while they may be slow and fat, Ponty is very calm around dangerous things (read: bees and fire), and Gallant and Ironfoot have impressive amounts of endurance, and that this is exactly what the protagonists need them to be.
- Wound That Will Not Heal: The Master accidentally burns the back of Mirasol's hand during the ceremony to welcome him to the demesne, and although she tries various remedies, the burn never seems to heal. Mirasol steadfastly insists that it's a result of the burn being in such a thin-skinned and inconvenient place, but others, including the Master himself, take it as something more supernatural. It doesn't heal until the Master uses his power over Fire on it.