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Fantasy Review – The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

Let’s go back to the 1980s for a lovely fantasy from Robin McKinley – THE BLUE SWORD. I don’t remember if it was marketed as YA at the time but it’s on the Newbury Honor Roll. No fairies or elves in this one, but it has lots of other elements of classic high fantasy along with a nice bit of romance.

Angharad Crewe (she prefers Harry) is a young woman whose father has just passed away, leaving her in the care of her older brother Richard. He’s a military officer, posted at a remote desert town in Damar. If you think of the British rule in India you’ll have the scene in mind.  Harry has been invited to stay in the house of the commanding officer, with his wife and two daughters.

Harry is a dutiful young lady but isn’t all that into the normal girlish activities. But she’s grateful to have a place to go, and settles into the rather tedious life in this small community – not without a bit of restlessness, but she’s not going to complain.  And she likes the desert; it calls to her somehow.

There are other people in the desert too, the Hillfolk, who are rumored to have a bit of magic, easily laughed off by the military men. When Corlath, the King of the Hillfolk, asks for a meeting, they’re all stunned but readily agree. It so happens that Harry and her companions, hoping to at least see the mysterious folk, run into Corlath as he’s leaving in a fury. Harry is shaken by something, something in his eyes…

Corlath asked for  help from the military against a threat growing from the North. What help they might be, he wasn’t sure, because the enemy has magic, but he knows his own forces are not going to be a match for them. The Homelanders refuse; it’s not their business plus a war between the two other forces will only strengthen their own position. Corlath can’t explain that the inimical magic of the Northerns will destroy all. But as they ride out he sees Harry. Corlath has the Sight, sometimes, and the Sight tells him Harry is important. This is not pleasing to Corlath, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Harry wakes up from a drugged sleep to find herself kidnapped, traveling with Corlath’s band toward his town. The men have accepted that she’s important in some way and are kind, and slowly it becomes apparent that Harry does have a contribution to make.  Her training, and how she becomes the new wielder of Gonturan, the legendary Blue Sword, make up the bulk of the novel.

Harry is your classic orphan who comes into surprising powers. She’s perfectly delineated and extremely relatable. Corlath too is an excellent character – his reluctance to use her at all, then his reluctance to put her in harm’s way was a good progression.  McKinley gives real depth to all the characters including the minor ones. Even Narknon the cat and Sungold the horse are distinct personalities.  Excellent world-building too. The enemy is a mysteriously evil force with a malevolent leader, and the battle scenes are vivid.

An aside – after it’s all over, you might notice that conversation between Harry and Corlath becomes couched in strangely formal language.  That happened in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, too, so I wonder if that was a deliberate choice by McKinley.

THE BLUE SWORD is such a good book and plus it’s stand-alone, not as common these days. I also highly recommend McKinley’s second in the same world, THE HERO AND THE CROWN, which tells the story of Aerin, the first wielder of Gonturan.  You can read them in either order, and you should, because they are classics.




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