Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chalice and Avalon High

One advantage to having a nursing infant is the opportunity to sneak in a chapter here and there throughout the day (and night).  One disadvantage is finding the time to write about what I've read when I can think in coherent thoughts and type with both hands!

A while back, I read several quick YA fantasies, but haven't had the time to write about them until now.  The first was Chalice, by Robin McKinley.  McKinley's Newberry award-winning Hero and the Crown was my first introduction to fantasy when I was young, and I've enjoyed the handful of other novels I've read by her.  I was actually looking for one that had been recommended to me, Spindle's End, which is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty (I think).  But it wasn't in, so I had to settle for ChaliceChalice is the story of Marisol, a common beekeeper in the Willowlands who is chosen to be Chalice (a ceremonial position that is part political and part religious).  She assumes the position in the midst of great turmoil after a disastrous accident claims the life of the former Chalice, as well as many of the local leaders, including the Master himself.  The Master's younger brother had been sent away seven years before to become a priest of Fire, but he is called back to fill the role of Master upon his brother's death.  Not quite human any longer, however, he has difficulty fulfilling his responsibilities and gaining the people's trust.  Marisol believes in him, however, and does what she can to save her people, her Master, and the very land itself from outside forces that would try to destroy it.

It was an interesting plot, but fell far short of it's potential.  Part of the problem is that Marisol is so isolated in her role as Chalice that we spend pretty much the whole novel in her head.  There is very little dialogue and even less action.  One scene that could have been a moment of high drama and tension feels shallow because Marisol misses it and has to be told about it later.  I know from her other books that McKinley can do action, so I'm not sure why she shies away from it in this novel.  There is a hint of romance, but it doesn't develop into anything worth getting worked up about.  The political intrigue was interesting, but I felt so trapped in Marisol's thoughts that it too fell flat.  Next time, I'll stick with Spindle's End.

After seeing her novels on my teenage sisters' bedside tables for years, I finally read my very first Meg Cabot story.  Cabot is probably most famous for her Princess Diaries series.  My introduction to her work was through Avalon High, an Arthurian story set in a contemporary setting.  Ellie has moved to Maryland because her parents (who are professors with specialties in Medieval times) are on sabbatical for a year.  Ellie isn't thrilled about the idea of starting a new school, but things look up immensely when she meets Will; the gorgeous quarterback who also happens to be smart, honest, upstanding, and idolized by everyone in the school.  What's surprising is that he takes notice of her, and even begins to prefer her to his beautiful cheerleader girlfriend, Jennifer.  Soon Ellie discovers that Jennifer is cheating on Will with his best friend, Lance.  Over time, more and more parallels can be seen between this little high school drama and that of Arthur's Camelot, and Ellie begins to wonder how she fits in and what she can do to stop the evil events that are destined to follow.

It was a cute little story that didn't take itself too seriously, with plenty of humor to make it light and easy to read.  But the teenage-speak got pretty old after a while, and the characters felt like they had just walked off a teen movie set.  The plot was predictable and the whole thing was really lacking in substance.  I did think the historical aspect looking at Arthurian legend was interesting, but if all of Cabot's work is like this, I'll leave it to the teenagers.

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