Posts Tagged ‘The Blue Sword’

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley ~ 1982. This edition: Firebird (Penguin Putnam), 2002. Softcover. ISBN: 0-14-130975-X. 272 pages.

Orphaned misfit tomboy rather unwillingly travels to a new home, finds herself, falls in love and is fallen in love with, saves a kingdom. There we have it in a nutshell.

Embellishments include a rather good invented world based recognizably on colonial Great Britain and one of its more troublesome hot-place colonies, wonderfully psychic horses, stellar swordplay (our heroine is a natural, of course), giant domesticated cheetah-like cats (I want one!), not-quite-human bad guys, and a fair bit of magic.

Also a strong silent type who just happens to be a king, and who does he fall for?

Yup. You guessed it.

Okay, this sounds a bit dismissive, and I don’t mean it to be, because this is a very decent example of its genre, a fast-moving bildungsroman incorporating a truly generous number of fantasy-fiction tropes, with undoubted inspiration from those who went this way before, most obviously perhaps our old friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

Here’s the back cover blurb from my Firebird edition, which hits all the high points:

Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Free Hillfolk. When Corlath, the Hillfolk King, sees her for the first time, he is shaken—for he can tell that she is something more than she appears to be. He will soon realize what Harry has never guessed: She is to become Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, and carry the Blue Sword, Gonturan, which no woman has wielded since the legendary Lady Aerin, generations past…

Damar is well imagined, and I am happy to report that McKinley develops it in much more detail in another, even better novel, the prequel to The Blue Sword (though published after it, in 1984): The Hero and the Crown. Lots more girl power. And horses. And there also be dragons.

Also in several short stories contained in the 1994 collect The Knot in the Grain.

Good stuff.

The Blue Sword picked up a seriously decent award early on, being designated a Newbery Honor Book in 1983 (The Hero and the Crown subsequently won the Newbery Medal in 1985), and a couple of ALA citations, one  for Notable Book, and another for Best Book for Young Adults.

This was McKinley’s second published novel, after 1978’s Beauty, and in common with a lot of her early work it is for the most part nice and tight and well-edited; sadly the same cannot be said for some of her later efforts, which suffer from over embellishment and goosey-loosey plot structure. (Sunshine, you’re the gorgeously vampirish exception. Shadows, I’m looking right at you.)

My rating: a good strong 8/10, because I’ve read it quite a number of time over the years (though I was out of the target YA age group when it was first published, and so missed reading it in my teen years) and I still like it a lot, crowded with predictable fantasy stereotype as it is.

Undemanding and engaging escape reading, as so many of the better “youth” novels are. Picking out those familiar fantasy-lit motifs and seeing how the author makes them her own can be a lot of fun.

 

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