I adore Robin McKinley’s writing; she is on that short list of authors whose books I will pick up without knowing anything about them except they’re written by Robin McKinley.
Chalice . . . is my least favorite Robin McKinley book.
I won’t say I didn’t like it, but I don’t know how much of me liking it was due to the author, rather than the book. Too much of it kept backtracking to tell me about things before the narrative began; for a while there it felt like two pages of present story, twenty pages of backstory. Too much of it was told in summary, the narration describing what happened when Mirasol talked with Clearseer or whoever, rather than actually showing me that interaction. Too much repetition — Mirasol lamenting her lack of apprenticeship, for example — for too little in the way of new development in character and plot.
I think there ultimately wasn’t enough here to fill out its length (and it’s a short book for all of that). It might have compelled me ten times more had it been a third as long.
There still would have been the inherent conservatism of the setting — the wholehearted embrace of the connection between family lineage and talent/magic/right — but I can be okay with that, inasmuch as I don’t require fantasy only to explore concepts I want to live with in real life. But it needed more exploration of that conservatism, or else less time spent dwelling on it. More story, or else less book.
It reminds me, though, that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Dragonhaven, which I remember people quibbling with back when it came out. Maybe I’ll make time for that one soonish.