The Blue Sword is written by Robin McKinley and was published in 1982 by Greenwillow Books. Her website can be found here.
“When Harry Crewe’s father dies, she leaves her Homeland to travel east, to Istan, the last outpost of the Homelander empire, where her elder brother is stationed.
Harry is drawn to the bleak landscape of the northeast frontier, so unlike the green hills of her Homeland. The desert she stares across was once a part of the great kingdom of Damar, before the Homelanders came from over the seas. Harry wishes she might cross the sands and climb the dark mountain where no Homelander has ever set foot, where the last of the old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk, still live. She hears stories that the Free Hillfolk possess strange powers—that they work magic—that it is because of this that they remain free of the Homelander sway.
When the king of the Free Hillfolk comes to Istan to ask that the Homelanders and the Hillfolk set their enmity aside to fight a common foe, the Homelanders are reluctant to trust his word, and even more reluctant to believe his tale of the Northerners: that they are demonkind, not human.
Harry’s destiny lies in the far mountains that she once wished to climb, and she will ride to the battle with the North in the Hill-king’s army, bearing the blue Sword, Gonturan, the chiefest treasure of the hill-king’s house and the subject of many legends of magic and mystery.”
“Harry stood only a few feet from the bottom step, holding her pony’s bridle. Cassie and Beth were somewhere behind her, and the stable boy stood frozen a few steps from her elbow. Corlath still had not noticed them and Harry stared, fascinated, as he came nearer. There seemed a roaring in the air that beat on her eardrums and pressed against her eyeballs till she blinked. Then he looked up abruptly, as if from some unfathomable depth of thought, and saw her: their eyes met.
The man’s eyes were yellow as gold, the hot liquid gold in a smelter’s furnace. Harry found it suddenly difficult to breathe, and understood the expression on Dedham’s face; she almost staggered. Her hand tightened on the bridle, and the pony dropped its head and mouthed the bit uncomfortably .The heat was incredible. It was as though a thousand desert suns beat down on her. Magic? she thought from inside the thunder. Is this what magic is? I come from a cold country, where the witches live in cool green forests. What am I doing here? She saw the anger the man was holding in check; the anger stared at her through the yellow eyes, and swept through the glistening white robes.”
“Harimad,” barked a kysin; and Tsornin jolted forward before Harry had registered her name. She was set facing a boy in a green robe and yellow sash; the kysin said, “Begin,” and Harry feinted Tsornin to the left, back, forward, and the boy’s sword fell to the ground, and his yellow sash fluttered down to cover it. A bell rang.
Harry was a bit taken aback. The kysin waved her aside. Tsornin flattened his ears; he was not interested in boys who did not know what they were doing. Next Harry removed a dark orange sash from around a sky-blue robe; and then a white sash from a purple robe. Harry began to feel as irritable as her horse, and with each cry of “Harimad” the two of them turned and stood and attacked and wondered when the real thing would begin. Harry began unhorsing her opponents before lopping off their sashes just to give herself something to do.”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
I love Robin McKinley. She has a great world in Damar with great beliefs and legends. Harry is a stranger adjusting to a new culture, learning new things, and McKinley has her learn at just the right speed. We see enough of Corlath and get his view enough times to connect to him as well as to Harry. The ending is sappy and amazing and the best part of the book, in my opinion. Even the animals, especially Tsornin the horse and Narknon the cat, are fleshed-out and have their own distinct place in the novel.
What I Didn’t Like:
The romance, while I love it, does come a bit out of nowhere. It might confuse/surprise some people.
Harry, while a good heroine, is also, I think, somewhat of a Mary Sue in that the Hill-folk all love her and she wins the laprun trials without even a challenge except from Corlath. First of all: all the Hill-folk love her? Really? This stranger who just comes and starts taking over and winning things? Isn’t there anybody who is resentful or something? Second, the person who only had six weeks of training beats people who have trained for years? I mean, she had magic on her side, but no one gives her at least a bit of a challenge until Corlath? Don’t get me wrong, I like Harry. But those two things are a bit of a stretch.
The writing style gets a little hard to read at the end. Long sentences full of commas, etc., very descriptive, old-fashion-ish. Very beautiful, but hard to take near the end. It’s probably because of the time period (‘80s) it was written in, or just McKinley’s style in general (or it might just be me). It’s not a bad writing style, per se, but it’s hard to take in large sections.
Despite my objections, The Blue Sword is a fantastic fantasy. The world and magic of Damar are beautifully and intricately thought-out. Harry’s journey is realistic and well-written and I highly recommend this book and its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, to any who enjoy fantasy, heroines, dragons, etc.
Coming Up Next: Beauty by Robin McKinley