The Blue Sword

by Robin McKinley

ages: 12+
First sentence: “She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”
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I first read The Blue Sword ages and eons ago. No, not when I was a kid, though I could have. It was soon after I first read Beauty by Robin McKinley (the book a friend gave me that I credit with my current love of YA). While I liked Beauty well enough, it was Harry Crewe and the country of Damar that I fell hard for.

Since I read this pre-blog, when I started it up, I wrote a couple sentences about my favorites. This one went like this: “The Blue Sword is full of adventure, magic, romance, swordplay… it would probably make a pretty good movie if anyone ever thought of it. It was an engaging book, well-written and the heroes were believable and interesting (there’s a lot of believable tension and chemistry between the two lead characters, which makes it fun).”

That doesn’t even begin to sum up the awesomeness that is The Blue Sword.

Harry Crewe is an orphan who has been shunted out to Damar, which lies on the outer reaches of the empire. She’s a ward of the regional head there, and is not happy about that. At all. Partially, it’s because she misses her parents, but mostly it’s because she’s unsettled. Unsatisfied. She never was the type of girl to sit still; she preferred riding and climbing to sitting and sewing. But, she’s supposed to be “proper” now, which means she looks wistfully out at the mountains, and wishes she could just do something.

Then Corlath, the king of the Hillfolk, shows up at the settlement. Nominally to try and make some sort of agreement with what they call the Outlanders, but that fails. Instead, he sees Harry, and his kelar — which is a kind of magic — demands that she come with him. So, he kidnaps her. Yes, it’s unsettling at first, but eventually she learns that the Hillfolk is where she belongs. She has the kelar, too, as strong as Corlath’s. And it becomes her Fate to be Harimand-sol, the lady Hero, and the first one since Lady Aerin to wield the Blue Sword in battle.

That’s the basic gist of it, but not the whole thing. McKinley, when she’s at her best, knows how to weave a good story. She pulls in amazing characters — my favorites are Jack Dedham, the career military guy with a soft spot for Hillfolk; and Narknon, the hunting cat that adopts Harry — and creates a vivid and detailed world but without all the exposition. She’s such a tight writer, such a gifted writer, that she’s able to do all this with a minimum of words, or without making it seem inaccessible or difficult.

In short: it’s brilliant. (And it’s more than 30 years old, without being dated in any way. That counts for a lot.)

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