Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley

Edited on Feb 23, 2009 to add review links.

The Blue Sword

Robin McKinley
Ace Fantasy
Copyright: 1982
Ace edition 1987

According to the back of the book:

This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin.

And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King's Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle.

And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies...

The Blue Sword

This is honestly one of my favorite tales of all time. It's certainly my favorite of the books Robin McKinley has written. The first time I read The Blue Sword, it must be ten years or more now since, I was reading it at a friends, and they loaned it to me to finish. I finished it that night, and the next day started reading it from the first page again, enjoying it just as much the second time. The book hasn't lost its' fascination for me since. I reread it regularly.

The set up for the cultures reminds me strongly of the British Empire in India, at least how it's described in M.M. Kaye's books, with the Homelanders being the British. On the other hand, the Hillfolk remind me somewhat of the Beduin, so it's not a complete parallel.

Harry Crewe is an interesting character, she's certainly not perfect in any sense of the word, but she's very 'real'. Confident when she needs to be, but also very uncertain about what has happened to her, and why. Loves horses and books. The way she's blamed some of her actions on reading too many novels is perfect. I've done the same, although nowhere to the degree she has (In my case, it's learning to spin with a drop spindle). I like her, and if it were possible to have characters from books for friends, I think I'd like to have her for a friend.

There is a sense in The Blue Sword of stories and history untold. The book is simply filled with background details that are enough for the story, but leave the reader wanting to know more. Why have the Hillfolk dwindled the way they have? Who (and what) is Luthe? Why is strong kelar so rare? Why have many of it's gifts been lost? And these are just a few of the questions. Some are answered in The Hero And The Crown, but not most of them.

The story is dramatic and serious while remaining funny where it needs to be, mostly through little jokes in the dialogue between the characters, and in Harry's thoughts. There's a familiarity to the world which makes the magic and unexplained even more real. Perhaps it comes from the similarities to our world that I've already mentioned.

The one thing that bothers me a little, is the love story at the end. It seems to come out of nowhere, with not more than the slightest hints of what's to come. The relationship fits the story, and makes for the perfect ending to the book, I just think it would have been interesting to get a bit more on the characters' thoughts about each other before the marriage proposal.

I think there are some short stories set in this world, but I'm not sure. I certainly remember reading them (I think) but I can't remember in what books, or what the titles are.

Interestingly, when I first bought The Blue Sword years ago, I found it categorized under 'Fantasy'. Now, it can be found in Teen Fiction. I don't know why it's been changed, but I wonder if it has made the book more visible to readers, or less. The story certainly doesn't read like a teen novel to me.

Well worth the read, this book is one I'd almost class as being too short. I certainly give it a five star review.
Medieval Bookworm: The Blue Sword
Arch Thinking: The Blue Sword
The Book Smugglers: The Blue Sword
Crimson Cloud Nine: The Hero And The Crown and The Blue Sword

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