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Old Friends and New

Everyone who loves books and reading has old friends, books you pick up when you’re too tired to read something new, or when you just want to revisit a favorite place/character.  The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, both by Robin McKinley, are two books on my Old Friend List.  I discovered The Blue Sword first in my high school years (though it is technically a juvenile), and it immediately became a staple in my library.

I found more than a little common ground with the heroine Harry, and the vivid, maybe-sort-of British colony painted by McKinley, more Middle Eastern desert than India, spoke to my own childhood years in Saudi Arabia.  The Hero and the Crown, the prequel to The Blue Sword, was a natural next choice, and uses the same spare, straightforward narrative style.  

I re-read both of these books at least once a year.

I’ve tried other McKinley books over the years.  Deerskin was so harrowing that I’ve read it exactly once and shied away from it like a frightened horse ever since.

The Outlaws of Sherwood, naturally a Robin Hood retelling, is a decent enough juvenile version of this tale, featuring the cast of regulars from childhood forward.

Sunshine, a new take on vampire mythos, was a very entertaining read, and hopefully extends to sequels in the future.

McKinley has also done multiple retellings of fairy tales, but I generally prefer original stories so haven’t sampled those.  So, it was good news to me to find a new original story coming out this year, Chalice.

I’m halfway through it at this point, and really, very, seriously disappointed thusfar.  The narrative is…fragmented, to be kind about it.  The timeline skips between past and present, and while that can be a legitimate backstory-filling tool, it’s somehow very jarring in this book.  There’s also a leaden quality to the whole thing.  I am dreadfully interested in Mirasol’s bees, and the amazing honey, but I don’t know how many endlessly looping conversations and inner monologues I can plow through to get to the resolution.  

I’ve always had a problem with books that plop you directly into a fully formed universe/society/what-have-you, with nary a word of explanation or exposition, and simply expect you to get it.  CJ Cherryh is a HUGE perpetrator of this kind of writing, which led me to swearing off her work decades ago.  There are ways and ways to make a reader feel welcome in a new world, and simply ignoring them seems kind of arrogant to me.  

So, thusfar, Chalice is not living up to my expectations.  I’ll soldier on, of course…a book must be read, after all.