Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword (1982) (Firebird)
Robin McKinley
Grade: C+
Genre: fantasy / young adult
Source: own
Damar: (1) The Blue Sword
Young adult RBC 2014: A book with an incredible fight scene

When orphaned Homelander Harry Crewe is sent to live with an adopted family in Istan, she settles surprisingly well into her new home. She feels a strange affinity for the deserts that surrounds the town and she’s delighted to be reunited with her brother, Richard, after he was sent away for military service. She can’t explain her insatiable curiosity about the Hillfolk – natives of the Damar land who have taken to living in the hills when the area was colonized by Homelanders.

Harry is in the centre of Homelander-Damar politics as Sir Charles, her new adoptive father, is District Commissioner of the area. She’s captivated when Corlath, King of the Hillfolk visits Sir Charles in what is ultimately a fruitless attempt at joining forces to stop the onslaught of Northern soldiers. Harry is not the only one affected by this meeting as evidenced when Corlath kidnaps her from her guardians and makes Harry part of his entourage. Time sees Harry become Harimad-sol, a King’s Rider wielding the Blue Sword, which no woman has handled since the legendary Lady Aerin …

Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword is a Newbery Honor Roll title and I’ve heard a fair few things about it. The first book in the Damar series, we’re transported to a whole new world where different peoples live segregated and hostile lives, preferring war over cooperation and mutual benefit. I wasn’t convinced. I can somewhat see the appeal and why this is popular, but this wasn’t for me. Historically, Robin McKinley has been a hit-and-miss author for me: I adored Beauty and Rose Daughter, but Sunshine was an uphill struggle; unfortunately, The Blue Sword was another one that fell into this latter camp. A shame since I wanted to like this title, but clearly others have concluded differently.

Right from the first page, Harry feels uncomfortably familiar and at-home with her new life in Damar. When she’s kidnapped, she’s initially confused and resentful, but inexplicably drawn to this lifestyle nevertheless. I found her response inconsistent and just strange – she’d never fitted in at home and so it’s a relief when she gets on so well with the Damarians, but still: she was kidnapped. Just plain strange. This was probably the main factor that didn’t sit well with me.

Yes, there were parts that I loved but overwhelmingly, there were also parts that were a hard slog that I found myself skimming through without actually taking anything in. Highly disappointing given the good things I’d seen surrounding this title, but you can’t like everything. There were some great fantasy elements and overall, an interesting world that McKinley has created but to be honest, I can’t see myself reading this again.

Image courtesy of Book Depository.

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