Chalice by Robin McKinley
Mirasol has always been content with her simple life as a beekeeper. She enjoys tending her bees and selling her honey concoctions to the locals. Then the Master and Chalice (basically, the king and queen, although it is rare that the two are married) of Willowlands die in a terrible fire. The diving rods choose Mirasol to be the next Chalice. Suddenly, her hives are overflowing with honey and her bees are behaving rather strangely. Mirasol must use her honey concoctions to speak to the earthlines and fix the land, all while helping the new Master, a man who is part fire element and part human.
This is the first Robin McKinley book that I've read and I loved it. With its magical elements and its down-to-earth heroine, Chalice is one of the best fairy tales I've read this year. For a book lover, Mirasol was the perfect main character because she immediately holes herself up in the castle's library upon learning that she is the new Chalice. Mirasol reads book after book in an attempt to figure out what her new job entails. As a nature lover, I was fascinated by Mirasol's bees. Mirasol could taste the types of flowers that her bees used in each hive, so she made batches of honey that were useful for various things, such as headache remedies, tension tamers, and burn relief. As Chalice, Mirasol finds each of these honey concoctions helpful in her various tasks. There is also an element of romance in this book, just the right amount for a fairy tale. The new Master was sent away seven years ago to learn how to become a Fire Elemental. Called back by his new duty as Master, he is barely human. He has blackened skin, red eyes, and his touch can burn through to the bone. Mirasol, however, is not afraid of him and works tirelessly to show her people that he is the rightful Master. As I was reading this book, I wished that I was in the middle of a forest with a pot of honey beside me. This book is perfect for anyone who likes fairy tales or strong heroines.
Chalice has been nominated for the 2008 Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.