Book Review: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

January 30, 2005


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This Newbery Honor book is the first in a series of novels about the fantasy realm of Damar, which also includes the Newbery Medal-winning The Hero and the Crown. And Potterheads will be amazed to learn that this book contains both a Harry and a Draco. Only Draco, in this case, is a horse; and Harry is a girl.

Set in a fantasy-world version of the British Empire of Queen Victoria’s day, in a country somewhat like India, it tells the story of a young woman from the Homeland (i.e., England) who gets swept into a strange destiny with the Riders of the King of a mysterious kingdom bordering the empire’s holdings–and a terrible war against their evil, not-entirely-human neighbors to the north.

Possessed of a power called kelar that is like a magical gift that, until now, was only found among the Hill People, Harry Crewe (the nickname is short for “Angharad”) is snatched from her bed in a diplomat’s house but treated with honor by her captor, King Corlath of Damar. His kelar made him do it, and he doesn’t really know why. But soon Harry shows signs of amazing power–including visions of the future, a gift of tongues and the skills of battle, and the protection of an ancient lady hero named Aerin Dragon-Killer whose sword she bears. (For Aerin’s story, see The Hero and the Crown.) Harry, who has long thought of herself as an ugly duckling with socially unacceptable habits, soon becomes an inspiration to a dwindling kingdom that faces the prospect of war with the vast armies of the north.

But then an immortal seer becomes involved…and a nagging doubt takes shape in Harry’s mind…and her pride & sense of strategy lead her to take a risk on which the future of both Damar and the Homelander Empire may depend…and which may make her a woman without a country.

Rich in detail, this novel brings a strange world, a unique culture, and a lot of interesting people vividly to life. While reading this book, it’s hard at times to keep in mind that it all takes place in a fantasy world. With a breadth of scope and pacing, a streak of seriousness that may appeal to any adult reader, and a joy in magic and battle and amazing creatures, this is a story that I think readers of any age will enjoy.