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The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
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Book Name: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher(s): Greenwillow Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: 1982

The Blue Sword takes place in a setting reminiscent of British Imperialism, where the Homelanders have occupied the Royal Province of Daria for a generation. Penniless and with few prospects after the deaths of her parents, Harry Crewe is sent to join her brother, a soldier at the remote desert outpost. While she finds life in the colonial settlement dull and monotonous, Harry can’t help but fall in love with the barren landscape and old wives’ tales of the native Hillfolk, who reject Homelander rule and are rumored to possess magic.

There are whispers of trouble brewing beyond the distant mountains, however, with a mysterious warlord gathering forces in the north. Corlath, the proud king of the Hillfolk, realizes that the only way to defeat the impending invasion is to ally with his enemies. But the Homelanders, who don’t believe in magic and underestimate the northern threat, are inclined to view the matter as a tribal war and refuse to get involved.

Corlath leaves the outpost in anger, but compelled by his kelar – the ancient magic of the hills – he returns to kidnap Harry as a prisoner of state, treated with the highest honor. To his surprise, she soon begins to show signs of a powerful kelar of her own. What unfolds is the story of how Harry Crewe becomes Harimad-sol, bearer of the legendary sword, Gonturan, and the savior of two civilizations.

The Blue Sword has the distinction of being the first “girl power” book I ever read. I received it as a gift when I was ten – a year before I was to discover my beloved Éowyn and many years before Hermione Granger was to even exist – and the same battered copy is on my bookshelf to this day. Needless to say, I’ve read it many, many times over the years. Had a bad day? Read The Blue Sword. Bored? Read The Blue Sword. Haven’t read The Blue Sword in awhile? Read The Blue Sword. You get the picture.

Early in the book, Robin McKinley writes of Harry, “She had always suffered from a vague restlessness, a longing for adventure that she told herself severely was the result of reading too many novels when she was a small child.” As an imaginative girl who also read a lot, I immediately rooted for Harry. But she stood out in even more ways from your typical Disney princess. For starters, she wasn’t particularly pretty. She was reserved in social situations. She expressed no interest in marriage. But then, after her kidnapping, Harry just got better. She was tough as nails, betraying no fear. She never let anyone see her cry, although she did cry. And when the time came to make hard decisions, she was willing to accept the consequences, although she dreaded them.

I hadn’t heard of the Bechdel Test at the time, of course, but reading as an adult, The Blue Sword passes with flying colors. Although an early conversation Harry has at the Residency with her two girlfriends is about King Corlath, the actual purpose of that conversation is to drive home how different she is from the other girls. Later, after Harimad-sol has come into her own, she fights alongside two warrior women, Senay and Kentarre (who is herself a queen), and they talk about family, loyalty, and battle.

While I love Harry and her story, I have to admit that Robin McKinley’s prose can get clunky at times. She often switches points of view in the middle of a paragraph, which can cause some passages to lack clarity. She also tends to get lost in minute descriptions that have little to no bearing on the narrative. One example of many is when Harry goes “down six steps, across a dozen strides of floor, and up nine steps to a vast square dais; around three sides of the square was a white-laid table. At the one edge of this dais where there was no table were three more steps up to a long rectangular table on a smaller dais…” I have pondered this particularly distracting passage for years, trying to figure out if all the steps being in multiples of three had any significance. After twenty-five years, I’m still stumped.

Despite the book’s few flaws, I will always adore The Blue Sword. It’s a quick read with a kickass heroine, likable supporting cast and imaginative world building. Its prequel, The Hero and The Crown, is also solid – and although I’m not a huge fan, my mother likes it even better than The Blue Sword. I encourage you to read them both and come to your own conclusion.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (3 votes cast)
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, 9.7 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Wendy says:

    This was (and still is) one of my favorite books when I was a girl. I loved Harimad-sol and all her adventures. This book is probably what made me want to become a writer myself. Thank you for reviewing it. This has brought back memories. 🙂

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