The Blue Sword
Release: October 1, 1982
Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?
Review by Rose Red:
I recently went back and reread a bunch of the books I adored as a teen to see if I still enjoyed them to the same degree as an adult. One of those books was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. It is hands down one of my favorite books of all time! My current copy is dog-eared and worn out from being read so often. And that’s my second copy. My first copy fell apart years ago from being read over and over again. I still love this book but Teen Me and Adult Me appreciate different things about it.
The Blue Sword is an amazing adventure story that's not about the adventure. It’s about the heroine, Harry Crewe, finding her place in the world. From the first chapter, we are informed about how she doesn’t quite fit in in the little border town of Istan. She hides her unhappiness and restlessness under a mask of polite manners and responsibility. One might suspect that once she has been kidnapped and then accepted by the Hillfolk, she would be content. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
One of the things I adored about this book as a teen and now as an adult is that Harry has some truly deep realizations about life and her place in it. It takes courage to do many of the things she has set before her and it soon becomes obvious that courage is definitely one of Harry’s defining traits. Well, that and the fact that she’s a bit stubborn too. When she is taken captive, she is determined not to show fear, even when she realizes that the Hillfolk have no intention of letting her go. Instead of moping and being depressed, she accepts it and moves on. I can’t help but love Harry and her stubbornness. I’ve been reading this book for almost twenty years now and I am still impressed with how Harry survives and adapts to living in a land where she is a stranger. And having help from her magic (aka kelar), doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Teen Me loved the romantic bits in this story, as most teen girls are wont to do, but the reason I kept coming back to reread this book was for the world of Damar and the magnificent horses. OMG! Those horses! Damar is a beautiful and enchanting place even through the eyes of a foreigner. It has always been one of those fictional places I’ve always wanted to go. I'm almost thirty years old and yet I still want to see the Laprun Trials and visit the royal city with its castle of stone built right into the mountain. I want to visit the Lake of Dreams and Luthe’s home. Heck! I even want to visit the Homelander outpost of Istan in the middle of the hot desert. AND DARN IT ALL, I JUST WANT TO RIDE A DAMARIAN HORSE!
As an adult, I'm still in love with the romance, Damar, and the horses but what I'm even more impressed with now is the diversity of the Damarian people and the richness of their culture and subcultures. They are proud, strong, loyal, and kind. Even though they don’t have ‘modern’ conveniences and seem like barbarians in the eyes of the Homelanders (who are, by the way, wonderfully British in a land with no England), they are not uncivilized in the least. One of the wonderful things about this book is that McKinley first presents the Hillfolk as they are seen by the Homelanders and then proceeds to turn everything we’ve been told about them to that point on its head. McKinley makes both cultures equal but different in significant ways. And I love that neither is presented as right or wrong. They just are the way they are.
Another thing I love about this book that I didn't appreciate as a teen is that the magic is presented as its own entity and becomes a character in the story. It’s easy to think that the story is just about Corlath and Harry. And while it mostly is, I see the kelar as a real driving force behind some of the things that happen. It is a unique presence throughout this book just as much as it pulses in the blood of our two protagonists. It bends the story to its will and arranges events to suit its needs without much care for mortal feelings or objections. Case in point, Harry's kidnapping. Corlath didn't want to steal Harry anymore than she wanted to be taken, but the kelar gave neither of them a choice. As for what happens from there... Well, I'll let you discover that on your own.
As hard as I try to, I will never be able to fully articulate how much I love this book. It’s definitely one of those hidden gem books. I wish it was more well-known. It actually makes me kind of sad that it’s not. I'll will have to be content with the fact that it was a Newbery Honor in 1983 and that its companion novel won the Newbery Medal in 1985. This book does have some cheesy parts, but overall it’s exciting and a bit romantic. I still love it as much as I did as a teenager and it is definitely a book that I will still be rereading for years to come.
**Note: Although this book is often assigned as the second book in this duology, it should be read first. It was actually published two years before its companion but it gets relegated to second because it occurs later in this series's timeline. The Hero and the Crown is a prequel novel of sorts and I think enjoyed more if read after you read The Blue Sword.