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This is a sweet and slightly alternative McKinley offering. She has such a way with words — her worlds always seemed suffused with a dreamy golden light, places where you always know that ill will become good. I love her writing. I grew up with her rendition of Beauty, and it was such a nice twist that the protagonist’s family was supportive and loving, not cruel and petty and jealous. This is typical of McKinley’s writing: She often writes female characters who are often stereotypically feminine according to the necessary social mores of the time addressed (attractive, polite, gracious), but they also have a core of strength to them. They are not malleable and easily influenced. They have support systems and strong bonds with other women. Internalized misogyny is usually absent from her worlds — I recall very little girl-on-girl hate, competition, or jealousy.
In Chalice, McKinley continues this trend, with a female character who may not seem stereotypically strong, but has a quiet core of patient strength and kindness. She is a woman in a position of power who is not a villain. She strives to live up to the expectations of others while forging her own path.
The writing is lyrical and occasionally repetitive, and it doesn’t display the same amount of wit and humor that many of McKinley’s other books showcase — it’s beautiful writing, but the whole thing is paced at a sort of dreamy, patient walk. I do recommend it, but I think it probably fits a lazy, nostalgic mood more than anything.