Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Notes: "The Blue Sword", by Robin McKinley

I think I've read this before, but if I have, it was so long ago that I'd forgotten almost all of it.

"The Blue Sword", by Robin McKinley, is, as far as I can tell, the first fantasy novel published by Robin McKinley, one of my favorite authors.

The reason I'm not sure whether or not I'd read this before is that though the beginning felt familiar the ending was a complete surprise. The likeliest explanation is that I started this when I was a teenager and never actually finished it.

But I couldn't help but finish it this time, because it was so, so good.

It's definitely old-fashioned. The point-of-view shifts drunkenly from character to character, which is a definite no-no for authors these days. But I kind of loved it in this book: the drifting POV made it feel comfortably familiar, properly fitting in with the distinguished fantasy novels of my youth. (Oh youth! - the sixty-year-old me will probably laugh at me for feeling old right now.)

So what is it about? Well, Harry (as the main character, Angharad, prefers to be known) is sent to the outskirts of the empire after the death of her parents. Clearly mirroring the British empire, this fantasy empire known as "Home" has subjugated much of the known world - but not all of it. The mountain people of Damar are still free, and the border with Damar is right where our heroine has been sent.

Early in the novel, Harry is kidnapped by the King of Damar, but the kidnapping isn't ill-meant, and in fact, becoming "of Damar" ends up being the making of Harry, and the making of Harry ends up being the saving of Damar - and alsoof the empire of "Home".

It would be easy to dismiss this as a paint-by-numbers Hero's Journey, except that McKinley wrote this before the hero's journey was so fashionable for writers. Also, "The Blue Sword" is so earnest - in the best of ways - and it can't be mistaken for a dull, fashionable, by-the-book legend. It's too real, too immediate and, in some ways, too imperfect.

I loved it. I argued with it, I wanted more explanation in some parts, I fought with it, I didn't like everyone in it, but I loved it.

McKinley is very good, and she became more polished later ("Shadows" is an excellent example - you can read my review of it here), but she was good from the beginning, and this book proves it.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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Paula said...

I loved that book! I read a number of her books growing up.

Jessica Snell said...

She's pretty wonderful, isn't she? :)