Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Blue Sword

Author: Robin McKinley
Number of Pages: 248
Reading Level: 6th grade and up
Series: Damar #1
Reading Time: 8 days

After the death of her parents, young Harry Crewe is sent to live in the far-off Istan at the edge of the Homeland border with her older brother. Harry has always been different, but she finds herself becoming more so as she continues to be attracted to the generally despised landscape of her new home.

Rumors abound in the Homeland border about the mysterious Hillfolk, Old Damarians who possess kelar, a kind of magic, and speak a strange language. Rumors come to life, though, when the king of the Hillfolk, Corlath, shows up in Istan wanting to meet with the General. The meeting is unsatisfactory for both parties, but Corlath leaves with more than he came with - Harry. Spurred into taking her by his uncontrollable kelar, Harry is whisked away to the Hillfolk, where she discovers more of herself than she bargained for.

Having just read Hero's Song and Fire Arrow, my expectations for The Blue Sword were low. I'd read too many fantasy novels lately that were unoriginal and played off of other writers' work. I was pleasantly surprised by Robin McKinley's novel. While the strong female protagonist is something of a stereotype today, I found myself rather enjoying Harry. Though she is much like other female protagonists, she is also different in that all she wanted was to fit in. She belonged to two places and so felt torn between the two. All the characters, actually, were very well-written and wonderfully lifelike. I especially loved Corlath, the king of the Hillfolk. He seems wise beyond his years, but you realize over the course of the novel that he is, in fact, not much older than Harry and sometimes acts thus.

More than any of the characters or individuals, though, the setting really pulled me in. I loved the different cultures of the Hillfolk and the Homelanders or Outlanders. The stark beauty of the desert was beautifully written, and the fascinating language and culture of the Hillfolk was pleasantly foreign and yet slightly relatable at the same time.

The plot itself was gripping for, though you know that good must win, you do not know how or when or who will fail to make it to the end. I read the last fifty pages with urgency, and did not stop even for dinner. I commend McKinley, though, for her ending. Not only was it satisfactory to the reader, tying up all the loose ends, she gave us a picture of what happened years after the end of the novel, for no apparent reason other than that the reader would want to know. I found myself giggling like a child, I was so pleased with the ending.

This is definitely a book that I want on my shelf to read again and again.

A Note to Parents:
In the fantasy genre today, preteens and teens are flooded with the paranormal. Vampires, werewolves, demons. I do not think these things are to be taken lightly in a spiritual sense; our culture is trying to normalize and glorify that which has been considered dark and evil for centuries. That being said, this book provides a wonderful alternative. There is magic in it, so if you object to your child reading anything with magic or sorcery than this book would obviously not be recommended. However, other than the magical element, this book had next to nothing inappropriate in it. A few mentions of d--n. A slight reference to the kings of old sleeping with many women. All in all, I'd say it was a wonderful fantasy read for any preteen.

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