Chalice reminded me of the movie Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, but only because of the alternate realities that Laurel, the heroine, keeps sliding in and out of (with the guidance of a mystical cat she calls Moonlight). There, the similarity stops. Laurel experiences something akin to being struck by lightning every time she alternates, and she also suffers great emotional trauma. In one reality, she is alive but has lost the love of her life, Nate, and the children she might have borne him, and in the other reality, she, Laurel, is the one who has been lost, and Nate and his motherless children grieve. She can appear to them only as a wraith-like specter. In one reality, Laurel is tied to a loveless marriage (an institution she entered into believing she could somehow redeem herself and her emotionally abusive husband). In the alternate reality, the love she never lost for Nate is a beacon of hope, but Nate and the children, especially the boy, are emotionally scarred and in need of a redemption Laurel is sure she can bring to them if she can only make them aware that her presence is real. The last third of the book really hooked me, and I’ll leave that as a surprise for the reader.
However, I found some of the transitions to be too abrupt. That abruptness works well when Laurel is “sliding”, but it doesn’t at other times. Like when the reader must jump from the young teens being in love (I felt that early relationship could have been depicted with a lot more depth) to their breakup, and then to Nate’s death in hopscotch fashion. And I never connected with Laurel’s feelings that she had “done” something wrong that caused her losses. Perhaps it might have worked if Thomma had taken me deeper into Laurel’s psyche, but she didn’t. Even worse was the jump from the dinner scene when Laurel first meets the Harry, to the proposal, immediately to the first anniversary, and then a HUGE jump to fourteen years later. And, in reading that last third of the book—which shall remain a surprise—I could see how much better it would have been if the character of Harry had been further developed. The novel is relatively short, 253 Kindle pages, and Thomma could have lengthened it by a good bit allow for this development. Still, I very much enjoyed it, especially the cats who stole the stage at various points in the novel, and the transcendental love that permeated everything.
I give Heart’s Chalice 4 stars for plot, 2.5 stars for character development, and 4.75 stars for the love story—the way they triumphed despite the challenges of the alternate realities was fantastic—for an average of 3.75 stars.