rating: 4 of 5 stars
Angharad--Harry--Crewe is orphaned with her older brother Richard--Dickie--after their parents pass away. Both move to Damar, a barren desert country, where Harry lives in boredom with the benevolent Sir Charles and Lady Amelia. The household is anxious: Corlath, the golden-eyed king of the Hill-folk, is rumored to be riding out with his men to meet with Sir Charles and ask for aid in the inevitable war with the Northerners--an alien, inhuman race of beings terrorizing the Hill-folk with dark magic. But on the day Corlath arrives to unsuccessful talks of an alliance, Harry catches his attention. Over the next three nights Harry struggles with insomnia, unaware her feelings of foreboding are warning her of what will happen next. Unable to stop thinking about Harry and driven by the mysterious blood-magic kelar, Corlath returns and kidnaps Harry in the middle of the night, forever changing her life and unknowingly opening the doors of her destiny.
Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword is a tale of identity as Harry, dubbed Damalur-sol (the Lady Hero) by the Hill-folk, struggles under the weight of genetic inheritance and a legendary destiny. It’s only now, living among the Hill-folk in their beautiful and multi-colored country, that Harry learns her mother was one of them, possessed of kelar, a gift Harry now has. Harry also learns through her trials at the laprun, a last-man standing contest of stamina, horse- and swordsmanship, that she is destined to wield the legendary sword of Aerin, Gonturan, and lead the Hill-folk to freedom from under the oppressive threat of the Northerners.
McKinley’s writing tends to be long-winded and at times, for The Blue Sword, it worked, but at others, it drew out what would otherwise have been a much shorter book. I can’t say I was too impressed with the story, but there’s something alluring about McKinley’s writing that kept me reading even when I knew I wasn’t going to finish satisfied.
I thought it was odd how easily Harry took to her new living situation after a harrowing kidnapping although, I think her yearning for some elusive missing piece in her life during the first few chapters signaled the coming of something greater for her. Quite simply, she had nothing better at home. Her bouts of homesickness were few and far between until they disappeared altogether. Harry became quite detached from her Outlander family until it became obvious Corlath’s disdain would lead to their deaths.
The laprun trials seemed like filler, a way to introduce us, by way of Harry’s first-hand experience, into the world of the Hill-folk and the culture she was being bred into. I felt the same way about her training with Mathin--but the entire novel was a work in constructing the abilities and honing the skills Harry would need for the anticlimactic battle between her small, traitorous army of followers (after a falling out with Corlath) and the Northerners. I just didn’t feel connected to her or any of the other characters to yearn for their victory or believed in the threat of the Northerners enough to find the confusing outcome satisfying. After all the hard work and training that seemed so important and went into making Harry into a Hill-folk Rider I thought she would use her new skills to do more than knock down a standard and kill a few Northerners. Instead, she waved Gonturan around and used her kelar to literally bring a mountain range down on the enemy, destroying them and ending the war.
I liked the idea of the King’s Riders and the almost-gory “knighting” ceremony. Out of everything, the Riders and everything about them (Hill horses, swordsmanship, their sashes) interested me the most. To have Harry become a Rider, a female warrior, essentially, was a very McKinley thing to do. Her female protagonists are usually strong-willed, independent and exemplary role models and for that, I’m glad. They can do everything just as well as, or even better than, their male companions and so McKinley’s romances are built on mutual trust, respect, and a strong foundation of companionship. My favorite character, though, was Narknon, a wild mountain cat. McKinley writes the best cats.
Unfortunately, McKinley’s books are officially hit or miss for me. This one was definitely a miss. Her emphasis, for me, were on the wrong things, which makes for a tepid outcome. To be fair, this is a YA book and I am not the intended audience. The Blue Sword is supposed to be epic and empowering, but I found it a little dull and am not going to be reading the sequel (a tale of the legendary Aerin, I think), The Hero and the Crown. Daran is not a world I care to visit again.
I don’t have too much else to say about this book except that I’m glad I checked it out from the library and didn’t spend money on it. Nothing against McKinley, but this one didn’t do much for me. I’m sure there’s a lot I forgot to mention, but I almost didn’t write a review for this one just because it didn’t leave too much of an impression on me.
If you like YA fantasy or epic tales of mysterious destinies with strong female protagonists definitely pick this up. I’ve heard many people recommend this to me so the deficiency may be mine. I need a break from McKinley so Sunshine and Chalice will have to wait. I want to come at her other books with fresh eyes; the chance either one or both will be disappointments isn’t a prospect I want to consider right now and need something with a little more guarantee to invigorate my sensibilities.
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