Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Review Number: 7
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Stand alone or series: Has a prequel (written after this book was done, though), but can be read alone
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?
Why did I read the book: I vaguely remember reading this when I was in grade school, and when I received it for Christmas as a nostalgic present, I simply had to reread it and refresh my memory. Plus, I had recently finished reading Beauty by the same author, and really love her writing style.
Wow. I had read this book before when I was much younger, but I am incredibly glad I reread it. As with many books you may have read as a young adult, rereading them tends to be a wholly new, enlightening experience. The Blue Sword is no exception.
Harry is a young woman who has just become an orphan after the death of her father. She packs off from Home (the “Homeland” for her people) to live with her brother and a surrogate family out in Damar—a bleak, intensely hot desert land. The Homelanders live at the edge of the desert, maintaining a diplomatic border with the desert dwellers called the Hillfolk. Ms. McKinley does a brilliant job at portraying the culture clash between both groups, and the prejudices that separate the two. One day, the new King of the Hillfolk–Corlath–decides to appeal to the Homelanders for help to stop an invasion from the Northerners (a common enemy that are more beast and dark magic than man). The Homelander diplomatic outpost replies that they cannot give aid without consulting the Homeland headquarters (not to mention they don’t really care, nor do they believe the Hillfolk in this matter), and have to refuse the King—which understandably pisses him off. As he stalks off from the camp, Harry stares after Corlath and catches his gaze (which is yellowed and blazing with magic that only the Hillfolk possess). Although Harry is not a remarkably beautiful girl, Corlath cannot rid her from his mind (his magical Gift keeps irritating him by replaying the moment constantly). Because one cannot ignore the visions sent by one’s Gift, Corlath returns to the station that evening and steals Harry from her sleeping home.
This is where Harry’s adventure begins. She is no ordinary girl, as you may have surmised. She herself possesses a strong Gift for magic, and Corlath realizes that she is necessary for them to defeat the invading Northerners. Harry, who has always been restless and not quite at home anywhere, finally has the adventure she craves, and gets to explore the desert that has held such a strong appeal to her. She quickly learns the Hill tongue, how to ride and how to fight after an intense training camp. To the people she becomes Harimad-sol and the Damalur-sol—the woman warrior hero—and the first in generations to wield the great Aerin’s blue sword, Gonturan.
While I know I enjoyed this book as a young girl, I could not fully appreciate how unique and wonderful this work is. Ms. McKinley—who I don’t think is capable of writing anything less than superb—hits all the right notes with this classic coming of age hero story. Harry (brilliant name, by the way) is a very real character. She questions her abilities and decisions, but follows her heart and bravely confronts any evil and obstacle in her path. Corlath also comes to life off the page, as a responsible (but pig-headed) King, who will do whatever it takes to ensure his peoples’ safety. Even the secondary characters all have a believable voice and color and capture the reader’s affections and concerns. But truly, Ms. McKinley’s true gift is that of her world building, magical descriptions, and her words that bring to life the shimmer of desert heat or the palpable danger in a swarming army of bestial demons.
This book might be slim at fewer than 300 pages, but each sentence is loaded with purpose and magic of its own. I was riveted for every second of the adventure.
Notable quotes/parts: The showdown between Harry, facing the majority of the Northern Army led by the evil badass Thurra is terrifying. The descriptions are vivid and thoroughly engrossing—you will not be able to look away.
I also found the reunion scene between Harry and her Homelander friends when she implores them for help against the Northerners touching, and handled very well.
Additional Thoughts: There is this disconnect that turns a lot of people off from reading Young Adult books, dismissing them as juvenile or a lesser genre. I can’t imagine why this is—some of my favorite books are of the Young Adult speculative fiction variety. Perhaps this is because the intended audience is young, or because the books don’t employ a hefty amount of unnecessary verbal floweriness or redundant descriptive passages…whatever the case, I highly recommend people to get out there and read some of the wonderful YA fiction that is floating around.
Verdict: A classic! A wonderful book in every way. Buy it or check it out from your local library if you haven’t read it yet!
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading next: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and Legacy