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Damar #1

The Blue Sword

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This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin.

And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King's Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle.

And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies...

248 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published October 1, 1982

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About the author

Robin McKinley

56 books6,772 followers
Born in her mother's hometown of Warren, Ohio, Robin McKinley grew up an only child with a father in the United States Navy. She moved around frequently as a child and read copiously; she credits this background with the inspiration for her stories.

Her passion for reading was one of the most constant things in her childhood, so she began to remember events, places, and time periods by what books she read where. For example, she read Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book for the first time in California; The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in New York; The Lord of the Rings for the first time in Japan; The Once and Future King for the first time in Maine. She still uses books to keep track of her life.

McKinley attended Gould Academy, a preparatory school in Bethel, Maine, and Dickinson College in 1970-1972. In 1975, she was graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College. In 1978, her first novel, Beauty, was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to, and she began her writing career, at age 26. At the time she was living in Brunswick, Maine. Since then she has lived in Boston, on a horse farm in Eastern Massachusetts, in New York City, in Blue Hill, Maine, and now in Hampshire, England, with her husband Peter Dickinson (also a writer, and with whom she co-wrote Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits in 2001) and two lurchers (crossbred sighthounds).

Over the years she has worked as an editor and transcriber (1972-73), research assistant (1976-77), bookstore clerk (1978), teacher and counselor (1978-79), editorial assistant (1979-81), barn manager (1981-82), free-lance editor (1982-85), and full-time writer. Other than writing and reading books, she divides her time mainly between walking her "hellhounds," gardening, cooking, playing the piano, homeopathy, change ringing, and keeping her blog.

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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
February 18, 2018
Feb. 2018 reread (for the umpteenth time) with my real-life book club. One of my all-time favorite comfort reads!

If you're wondering why YA fantasy lovers praise Robin McKinley (and based on her more recent novels that's a fair question), this book is one of the reasons.

The Blue Sword is one of those magical fantasies that I've read more times than I can count, and love beyond reason. I also think this 1982 book has been a little bit forgotten over the years, at least if you're not a Robin McKinley fan, and that it beats most of what passes for YA fantasy nowadays. It's certainly (IMO) much better than most of McKinley's more recent works, so if you've tried one of her later books and think she's not for you, you need to give this one a try. (Or The Hero and the Crown. I recommend both without reservation.)

This story is set in a fantasy world very reminiscent of British colonial-era India in the 1800's. A young woman named Angharad, known as Harry to her friends, has traveled across the sea to the outskirts of this desert country, known as the Royal Province of Daria (nope--no echoes of the British empire here) to join her brother at a military outpost. Harry is tall and quiet and a little awkward and doesn't feel like she fits in, despite the fact that there are only a few unmarried women at this outpost and their company is in high demand at dances and dinner parties among all the young soldiers.

But more important things are afoot: Sir Charles, the officer in charge of the outpost, is trying to negotiate with the Hillfolk, a nomadic desert people who ride magnificent horses. BTW I love the intelligent, brave horses and cats in this book; that's probably one of the reasons it's so near to my heart.

Corlath, the leader of the Hillfolk, is trying to get Sir Charles to commit the British army to help fight against a horrible magical horde from the north whose attack is soon coming. In the process of negotiations, Corlath catches a glimpse of Harry, and his kelar, the magical power in his blood, insists that he kidnap her and take her with him to the hills. So he does, not knowing why, but knowing it is necessary for some reason.

So begin the adventures of Harry, as she learns to ride a Hillfolk horse, fight with a sword, and come to terms with the kelar that runs in her own blood as well as Corlath's. She also needs to come to terms with her own heritage, her relationship with Corlath, and what her role will be in the fight against the inhuman Northern army.

This story takes place in the same world as The Hero and the Crown, which is set in an earlier time but was written later, so you can read these books in either order. And you should. They both have a permanent place on my "favorites" shelf, for good reason. In these early books, McKinley pulled me right into this magical world; I felt like I was living and experiencing all these adventures with Harry and Aerin (from Hero and the Crown). I'm just sad that there are only two novels, and a handful of short stories, that Robin McKinley wrote about this world.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
March 23, 2010
This book proves once more that standards for YA fiction have gone significantly down over the last 10 years. You just rarely come by this kind of writing any more.

"The Blue Sword" is an age old story of a young woman who after years feeling not belonging, invisible, and insignificant, finds her strength after being kidnapped by a mysterious Hill-king who possesses magic powers. Gradually she discovers an ancient magic inside herself, comes to terms with her abilities, acquires friends and love and a place where she truly belongs, as unexpected and unfamiliar as this place is to her.

Yes, the story is familiar, but the sign of a real writing talent is to make it special and unforgettable. McKinley certainly succeeds in it. Her writing is flawless and sophisticated, the imagery of mysterious land of Damar is vivid - the horse-riding, the nomadic life style, the castle in the Hills - I get shivers just remembering the tangibility of the descriptions!, and the characters (even non-human characters - horses, hunting cats) are oh so well drawn. I mean a SWORD in this book actually has more personality than famed Bella Swan!

I just don't understand why this book is not better known these days or known as a "hidden gem"? A vocabulary is too sophisticated, or not enough making out in it? It makes me sad that books like this are so obscure and all kinds of trash sells millions of copies!

If I have to point any flaws in the book, I'd say I wish the writing had a little more intensity to it, or I would have loved to see more passion in Harry, to see her unleash the power of her kelar onto a man she loves. But this is a crazy fantasy of mine, there is no real reason to spoil a perfectly good story.

This is certainly not my last Robin McKinley book.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews830 followers
December 10, 2018
“There never was a choice. I ride the only way open to me, and yet often and again it seems to me I am dangerously unfit for it.”

A penniless orphan of average beauty (it starts like a bad romance, no? WAIT FOR IT) called Harry (I DARE you not to think about Prince Harry’s bearded face now!) is forced to leave her home in the England Homeland empire and accept hospitality of strangers in Damaria, a desert land recently colonised but still inhabited by mysterious nomad Hillfolk.

The opening chapter reminded me of Guns of the Dawn and I thought that that a very good sign indeed. I was wrong. The Blue Sword is a tale about a girl who mastered a language in three days, horsemanship in a week and fighting skills in little over a month. And then she got a magic sword so she could save the world.

Harry is outwardly unprepossessing, well-bred young lady finding her place on the lower branches of a gentry tree in a Victorian-like society but inwardly she is an unquiet spirit, yearning for an adventure. In a properly British Homelandish manner, she finds herself intrigued by the savage locals and their barbarian yet, oh how sophisticated ways. Especially the gift of magic (kelar) fascinates her.

Now, the Hillfolk have their own problems. In the first place the gift wanes, their land has been colonised, and now a mortal enemy threatens to annihilate them. When the British Homelanders refuse to get involved in someone else's war help, the King of the Hillfolk, under the impulse of his own magic, decides to abduct Harry.

Cliches ensue.

1. A king whose diplomatic skill amount to a) being kingly, b) riding a red horse, c) having a fancy tent, and d) throwing a tantrum in the face of a potential ally when they are unimpressed by general threats and ominous foretelling. Impressive, no? We deal with a leader of people that have been conquered, by a benign power but nonetheless. And what doe this king do? He keeps his people separated not because the Homelanders are an oppressive force but because he fears a change most of all (He says: “They would send doctors and farmers and seeds and plows and bricklayers, and within a generation his people would be as faceless as the rest of the Outlander Darians.”). In other words, his faith in the strength and vitality of his own culture and traditions is next to nil and so he’d rather perish than civilise.

2. If you wonder why would an average charity case and a new arrival to the country be worth of breaking the law and potentially causing a conflict with a superior force, let me assure you that the answer is obvious: *TRIGGER WARNING* special snowflake!

3. Harry has a special cat and a special horse. A couple of days and she is able to use present perfect and conditionals also subordinate clauses in a new language, after three days she communicates fluently, after a week she is able to discern semantic nuances. (There is also another language she just speaks due to her magic powers). FOR THE RECORD, I have been living in the Czech Republic for half a year and I still am a source of mild bemusement for all my Czech speaking colleagues. Last week I confused the word for “lentils” with the word for a “cat” and every time I try to pronounce something as innocent as 13:40 I make the world a better place by making people laugh.

4. Back to Harry, Harry has magic, how could she not, and a sisterly bond with a legendary ancient queen. This allows her to swing a sword like a pro after a month and ride a horse like she was born in a saddle. She is also able to win special trials even though her tutor during six weeks of preparations does not tell her what to expect whereas other people train their whole lives in order to win.

5. And then, when you think things cannot get more cheesy, she gets a magic sword. And needs to save the day (battle plans? so easy when compared to embroidery!). Or actually, the magic saves the day, because in this world magic is everything and can do everything and everybody dances to its tune.

Where is this fabulous world building I have been reading about in the reviews?! Homeland is essentially England down to St George (and his dragon); not only the name is similar but the whole culture is copy-pasted with no additions whatsoever. The enemy is a caricatural evil with no nuance to it: They have always been evil, they have always hated the Hillfolk, they are dehumanised so that there are no doubts to the fact that they are bad and absolutely must die by the thousands. Just the depth of this design might swallow you.

My first warning should be the abduction scene. The girl is kidnapped and… nothing. Not a reaction. She just calmly cooperates and does not ask a single question like why or what do her captors plan to do with her. I'm not saying Harry should have fits, but from a strong-minded heroine, and she is portrayed as one, I'd expect at least something along the line of "Unhand me this instant!" or "Whatever you think you are doing sir?" instead she goes as meekly as a cow and didn't raise an eyebrow at being treated this way.

Then there is the writing style: swords flickering with the colour of madness (what is the colour of madness?! or a “colour of exhaustion” for that matter?) overuse of “for” for I kid you not it is used in every other sentence, smouldering gazes and in general a very descriptive style with loads and loads of telling. The romance is so lame that my cat's love for the fridge has more passion in it.

I understand that some of the favourable reviews are sentimental ratings (I have those too). This is a vintage book and when it was released there might have been some magic to it. For older readers, this might have been a gateway into the genre. I get it. Having said this, I cannot say that The Blue Sword aged well. To the contrary. Today it is a ridiculous and pompous read. Unless you are in a mood for something spectacularly cheesy, avoid.

You may also read the prequel: The Hero and the Crown ★★☆☆☆
Profile Image for Kogiopsis.
763 reviews1,476 followers
December 23, 2012
Added at the bottom: the perfect song for this book. Seriously, if it's ever made into a movie, this song should be in the trailer.

The description on this book's GR page is not my favorite synopsis. I think my little well-loved paperback says it better:

This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin.
And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King's Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle.
And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies...

Because easy as it is to think this book is just about Corlath and Harry, it's really not. The kelar is a driving force, enough that I see it as a third main character. It pulses through this book much as it pulses in the blood of our two protagonists, moving the story to its will, arranging events to suit its needs without much care for mortal feelings or objections.

Therefore, while I understand how some might object to the fact that this story begins with Harry being kidnapped by Corlath, in a way they were both kidnapped. Corlath himself is a prisoner, in a way, of the wild unpredictable magic he carries - there's a reason, after all, that they call it the king's madness. He no more wants to take her than she wants to be taken, but the kelar needs her to be Damarian, so neither of them have a choice.

Now, given that she's compelled and aided by something that powerful, Harry's entry into a new culture is remarkably easy, and this would be a problem if not for the fact that the point of this book is something entirely different. It's a great adventure story, of course, but it's not about the adventure story. It's about Harry finding her place in the world - a classic coming-of-age. From the first line of the first chapter, we know she doesn't fit where she is. She is discontent, restless, hiding it under a mask of polite manners. One might suspect, then, that once she's been accepted by the Hillfolk, she will be content, but that is not the case. One of the things I love about this book is that Harry's critical decision, her defining moment, is when she chooses not to give up the part of her that is 'Outlander'. Because she reconciles two different parts of herself, instead of denying one or the other, she is capable of achieving her goals. It takes courage to do that, and courage is Harry's defining trait. She is, even when taken captive, determined not to show fear; when she understands that the Hillfolk don't mean her harm but still have no intention of returning her to her people, she approaches new experiences with determination and a generally good attitude.

One of the things that keeps me coming back to this book and its companion, The Hero and the Crown, is the land of Damar itself. I think it's even more vivid in this book than in the other, even though THATC showed it in its prime. There, it seemed like a fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy kingdom. Here, seen in decline and through the eyes of a foreigner, it is astonishing and beautiful. This is where the strength of the Damarian people and the richness of their culture really shines, because this is where we see them in duress. They are proud, they are strong, they are noble and good-hearted and graceful. Their beautiful horses appealed to me when I was young and in that horse-crazy phase every girl goes through, but now what calls to me is their sophistication. Even though they don't have 'modern' conveniences and seem like savages to the Homelanders (who are, by the way, wonderfully British), they are not uncivilized in the least. There is a wonderful nuance in how McKinley presents this: instead of going the 'presumed savages are actually more advanced/special/sophisticated than the invaders' route, she makes them cultural equals in different ways. Both civilizations have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and neither is presented as right or wrong. While this book does somewhat deal with imperialism, it doesn't moralize, and the Homelanders are never villains simply because it's recognized that they are people too.

And then there's the relationship between Corlath and Harry. Corlath, when we first see him, seems like an intimidating and powerful sort, and he kind of is. But he's just as lost and confused, in different ways, as Harry is - just as unsure how to deal with the situation they find themselves in. He is not an unkind man, just an unsure one.

Some of my favorite moments in this book are his, including this one:
'Long after Harry had cried herself to sleep again, the Hill-king lay awake, facing the grief he had caused and could not comfort.'

Or this:
'He would help this girl now, as much as he might, stranger and thief as he might be to her. He would do what he could.'

The two of them together are a matched pair of lost souls who aren't lost at all when they're together, and it's beautiful.

Oh, I'm rambling, as I rather knew I would. The bottom line is: if you haven't read this book, you've done yourself a disservice and should rectify the problem immediately.

Now, since Luthe reminded me that I need to, I'm going to go re-read The Hero And The Crown.

Addition: Desert Rose by Sting could have been written about this story.
Profile Image for Gail Carriger.
Author 57 books14.9k followers
September 10, 2014
There are many out there who think The Hero and the Crown the better book, but I read The Blue Sword first and Harry is my one true love. That's part of it. I always liked the romance line better in The Blue Sword. And there's something remarkable in that, because for most of this book the two are separated. Yet I believe in their match unquestionably. Alanna was my first girl with a sword and magic, Harry was the first one I felt was like me.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,107 followers
August 11, 2013
a pleasure to read.

wonderful heroine. reminded me a bit of Brienne from ASOIF although quite a different character overall. I loved her nonchalant displays of bravery and independence, her easy acceptance of her own difference from others, her drama-free perspective on the world(s) around her, her quiet and her calm.

opening chapters felt distinctly like an alternate version of colonial era Britain. interesting path into a high fantasy novel.

best kidnapping ever! I never feared for her safety and I liked that.

McKinley is less of a stylist than I imagined but her prose is still liquid and lovely.

there were some minor disturbing undercurrents for me but it was hard to put a finger on. something about the 'blood is blood' and the idea that a person can only truly be accepted in a culture when they have the blood of that culture... that sorta bothered me, especially when combined with taboos around miscegenation with the Northerners. happily, in the end, McKinley makes it clear with the acceptance of some Outlanders that this is not actually her perspective.

short book. just read it this morning!

the last 20 pages or so tied up all of the romantic elements so I kinda breezed through them... the climax that happens before the tying up was pretty awesome. this is not an action-filled book but that brief clash between heroine and villain was really thrilling. Narknon to the rescue!

speaking of Narknon, that cat and the horse Sungold were really wonderful characters. strong personalities. and so surprising to see a cat as a companion in a fantasy adventure. yay! animals are great!
34 reviews20 followers
August 10, 2007
I've read this book so many times over the year that this time I went out and bought a new copy because my cover is in tatters. But I reread it again and loved it again, unsurprisingly. McKinley still amazes me with how fully realized Damar is as a place, how familiar the Homeland and its desire to civilise feels, and how freaking scary the Northerners are. (Seriously, y'all. Motherfuckers are SCARY.)

This is the perfect escapism book, partially because that's what Harry, our delightful heroine, ends up doing. Sure, it may be a kidnapping, but through a massive case of Stockholm Syndrome, or through something in the water or, as the more romantic view (and of course the one I have) would put it, fate, she finds a new, more comfortable home in the deserts of the native Damarians. And a sexy, sexy mentor in Corlath, the king of the Hillfolk, who forces his elite guard, the Riders, into accepting and teaching Harry. She gains a completely AWESOME horse, Tsornin, who is better drawn than 99% of the humans in any given book. And of course she gains a ghostly mentor in Aerin, who will later get her own book, the Newberry winning The Hero and The Crown.

Her journey through this, and her ascension as damalur-sol, Lady Hero, is the thing that makes this book so compelling. (Though how hot Corlath is comes in a close second.) She goes through culture shock, she goes through pain and difficulty and she ends up doing what she thinks is right despite risking ostracism from the first place she's ever really fit in. She's a wonderful heroine in a wonderful story, and all I wish is that there were more of Damar for us to experience. Dammit, Robin McKinley!
Profile Image for Becky.
1,339 reviews1,632 followers
August 31, 2013
This is my first Robin McKinley book, though I do have a couple others in my possession that need to be read.

I wasn't really thrilled with this one though. Up until about 50% I was liking it quite a bit, though I couldn't tell you why, because nothing at all had happened. But it didn't take long (or, rather, it took too long) and I started to feel like the story would never actually start, and now that I've finished, all I can say is that it didn't really do anything for me.

It seemed that everything was just a little too easy, a little too square-peg/square-hole... it fit together just too perfectly. There's never a feeling of true conflict or danger that Harry will fail, because she fails at nothing... at least nothing that she does after joining the Hillfolk. Everything that she does, she's the best at. Instantly - or close enough to seem like it.

Learn a new language from the ground up? Ain't no thang! She's fluently translating in no time.

Learn to ride a crazy big, amazingly bred, best-of-the-best, super-smart, intimidating war-horse? She's riding circles around her teacher in weeks.

Learn to sword-fight after never having held anything bigger than a butter-knife in her life? She's winning competitions in less than 2 months.

Defect from the main army to defend an underrated weak flank point and command battles? Got it in one... day.

Need to drop a mountain range on your enemy? 30 minutes. 15 if you exclude travel time to climb to the top of said mountains.

I mean really? I know that she's got this whole "kelar" magical insight/guiding force... thing. But can't she be bad at something? ANYTHING? The fantasy itself was... typical. Nothing special, nothing really compelling or impressive, except that the main character is a girl who has an unknown ability that, unsurprisingly, comes into play all the time to benefit her at just the right times, without her having to do anything at all. Sure, she has to swing the sword and ride the horse, but the magic in her makes her the best at it almost without even trying, and then all the really big stuff just happens by "instinct". There's nothing at all special or impressive about Harry aside from an accident of birth, but this book apparently thinks she's the greatest thing since sliced bread.

And the "Northerners"? The mysterious danger that is such a threat that they are mentioned a handful of times in passing? Aside from them being "different", it's not until they are actually IN BATTLE that there's any kind of information given about why they are so dangerous or scary. And again, most of that is that they are just "different"... oh, and their leader is bloodthirsty and maybe part demon and their horses are double-jointed?


I guess what I'm trying to say is that I found this book to be boringly predictable in the worst way. The story progressed through trope check-points like it was going out of style.

Outlander finds her true "home" with the "enemy"? Check.
She becomes the best of the best of the bestest at everything? Check.
She inspires all the peoples and the beasties to love and follow her? Check.
Saves all the things? Check.
She gets the guy/King? Check.
Bridges the gap between THEM and US? Check.


I also felt like the writing style itself was... odd. Sentence structures felt awkward and out of order, leading to this stilted kind of narration/dialogue that felt too formal and too informal at the same time. Maybe that's due to the fact that this book is 25 years old... it's just dated, and feels like it.

I was hoping to like this book, but it was just disappointing in the end. I hope McKinley's other books are better.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
2,940 reviews1,552 followers
September 6, 2022
I've read this so many times, and at so many different times in my life (I think I first picked it up very near it's original publication date) that a review is practically impossible. I'm sure I've absorbed this story in my bones. So some random-ish observations.

This may be the first time I've noticed that it's third-person omniscient perspective, which may be some of what lends it its old-fashioned tone. Frankly, I loved getting bits of Corlath and Mathis and even Dicky and Tom so I'm glad she made this choice.

I always forget the massive slow-down in pace once they get to the castle. it's foreshadowed by Mathis telling Hari that she can expect a crash, but there's a definite dreamlike quality to these scenes. This time I was conscious of Corlath being largely absent. He pops in for a periodic interaction but I missed him and had been looking forward to a slow-down to see more of him.

Luthe continues to be a huge mystery to me. I'm not sure what his purpose in the story is supposed to be, though I'll take the support for Hari that lets her do what she must in spite of everything/everyone else telling her different. I noticed, this time, that this section isn't dreamlike, particularly in contrast with the castle we just left. It isn't supposed to be, for Hari, because she has enough kelar to weather the atmospere, so that makes sense.

Anyway, it remains a favorite and I'm sure I'll read this one again sometime in the not-so-distant future. Hari finding her home, her people, and her purpose reaches deep inside me, every single time.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
June 28, 2016
Re-read for book club.

I got this book when I was eleven, I believe, and that was the perfect age. I have read this book so many times that picking it up again, after many years, was like hearing an old favorite song come onto the radio... each phrase resonating clearly in memory, bringing with it emotional associations.

So - I can't claim to be wholly objective about the book. I can say that if I has read it for the first time now, it would not have been as meaningful to me. Interestingly, I re-read the sequel to this book, 'The Hero and the Crown' not so long ago. (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). When the sequel came out, I was mildly disappointed by it, but as an adult, I actually think that it holds up better over time.

Part of this may be that while 'The Blue Sword' is in many ways purely a romantic fantasy, it is also inspired by historical fact. When I first read the book I did know about British Colonialism (thanks, 'The Secret Garden'!) but I knew nothing about the Anglo-Afghan conflict, which the events here are based on. It's jarring to reconcile the essentially uplifting story here with the bloody, nasty, reality. Don't get me wrong, the book in no way endorses colonialism. The problems and ethical issues are all acknowledged here - but they're presented subtly, sometimes between the lines. Our main POV character is Harry, a young woman who's been brought up in a certain type of society, and although she is an admirable person, her perspective on things is realistically limited by her experiences and what she perceives as 'normal.' I actually think that the presentation of the political issues is just about perfectly handled for an audience of preteens and young teens.

The main focus of the story is not political, but is on Harry as a character. In many ways, Harry is a Mary Sue - a term that has been thrown around a lot over the past few years as a term of denigration. I am pretty much opposed to that concept. No, books with 'Mary Sue' characters might not be delving into the sordid depths of the human character or aiming for a Booker Prize, but I think that they are a valid and important type of literature. Sometimes, we need wish fulfillment. Having a wonderful character to project yourself into can be incredibly valuable.

Harry has always felt like an outsider in her stuffy faux-British society, which sees her as wild and headstrong. Orphaned, the responsibility for her lies on her brother, a soldier. He's relieved to have an aristocratic couple posted overseas in the diplomatic service agree to take her in. Harry is keenly aware of her position as a charity case - but quickly finds herself falling in love with the new country she's been brought to. It resonates with her on a deep level, and finally she feels that she might be somewhere that she belongs.

However, her life is upended once again when the king of the hilltribes, Corlath, comes to the house where she is living on a diplomatic mission. The mission might be a failure, but Corlath's 'kelar,' his hereditary magic, 'recognizes' Harry at first sight - and insists that he take her as a hostage.

Events unravel from there, and we see Harry progress from being a child, subject to the wills of others, to a person strong enough to do what she believes needs to be done, even directly in defiance of others' wills. And of course, to become a legendary hero and to save the day.

The writing is wonderful - I love McKinley's mix of down-to-earth, practical details and elevated, fantastic passages. Another notable aspect is the depictions of animals - both cats and horses feature prominently in the book, and are shown with a genuine love and affection. The book also has a well-balanced mix of action and romance. It's a wholly chaste romance, but emotionally intense, and again, it's just perfect for a pre-teen. If you know someone in that age group, don't let them grow up without reading this!
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,054 followers
January 23, 2011
Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword blue me away. (What can I do for swords?) I don't know how to handle the feeling in a review. I'm in it to the hilt. It's sheathed in my memory.... No, I got nothing! (Blue words!) (Stop it, Mar!)

Reading that someone likes world-building and atmospherics doesn't really convey why I thought this was awesome so I won't try and be a normal reviewer for once. McKinley knows what she's doing. She's a master(sword bater!). This is not a glorified fanfic. All of those things are true. I'm not good at the basics. I know why I loved this even though I've forgotten a lot of the details. I won't even try to get those down right because I'll be (pre)destined for failure. (Stop saying what you aren't going to do.) (When someone says they aren't going to do something it often means that they are going to do exactly that.)

It was the lay of the freaking land. Community in the force that surrounds us and binds us Yoda shit. And I believed it. I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff in stories 'cause that's when I get to dream it for myself. McKinley was as good at that. It's like the sword handle behind the story that made it much more than a story. Like when you're living the story in your head as you are reading and forget everything else. (If only all stories did this!) It really did matter to me if she found her place.

Harry didn't belong anywhere and then she falls in love (with a life) and beyond everything fall into place - it's worth fighting for. I already said that. That's what I remember feeling! That's why I beam at this book when I see it on book shelves. "You know!"

I kinda wish that would happen to me, still. I haven't forgotten what it feels like to want to get connected like that little green man with the glowing blue sword talked about.

Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
569 reviews3,943 followers
August 20, 2022
Hace bastantes años que leí 'The hero and the crown' (que es una precuela de esta novela) y tengo que decir que aquel me gustó bastante más que este.
Y aún así he disfrutado mucho de esta historia... aunque sentí bastante conflicto personal porque la protagonista se tome TAN BIEN su rapto (ocurre al inicio de la novela), y luego lo del colonialismo que cierra un poco regular... cosa que podemos perdonar quizás, porque fue escrito en los años 80.
De todas maneras, es único y original, como todo lo que he leído de esta maravillosa autora.
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews268 followers
September 12, 2011
This book is better than it ought to be, and I'm honestly a bit bamboozled why I received it as well as I did (or why it has such a good rating here on Goodreads). Let me break it down, then, into the Good, the Bad, and the My-Theory-On-Its-High-Rating, starting with...

The Bad

1. Many technical aspects of this book are just bizarre. There are point of view switches MID PARAGRAPH. Much of the story is told in a third-person-limited focusing on Harry Crewe, a girl sent to the wild and uncivilized Darian steppes where she... FINDS HER DESTINY!!! (surprise!) But every so often, whenever its convenient, we'll get the thoughts of Corlath, the king of the Darian Hillsmen, or Malin, her teacher, or X. It's annoying and lazy.

In addition, there is some writing that is just plain nonsensical. Especially near the end, I read through several lines and said, what? Where's the editor? I promise I was not drunk nor high nor sleep-reading.

2. Nothing happens in the first 50 pages. I have rarely read a book which has so little momentum for so long. The only reason I kept reading was the high rating it had here. I'm glad I did finish it up, but still.

3. Almost nothing happens in the entire book. Now I got through it, and I wouldn't say that I ever felt bored. Actually yes I would. Occasionally, I was bored. Honestly, very little happens - there's all sorts of unnecessary interludes to the action, especially a visit to this mountain wizard Luthe, who serves literally no purpose in the story. And the end, when it does come, is so anti-climactic, which in turn leads me to...

4. So easy. In this book there is a magic called kelar whose limitations are never really explained. In fact, this magic becomes essentially an omnipotent force that helps Harry whenever she needs it. Wall blocking your way? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE. Learn a new language in a couple of weeks? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE. Learn to fight with a sword and ride a horse in 3 weeks better than people who have been doing it their entire lives? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE. Confronted with a massive army and a diabolical warlock who has kelar of his own and has been using it his entire life? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE. Friends mortally wounded? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE. Confused, not sure where to go in life? NO PROBLEM KELAR TO THE RESCUE.

The real hero of the story isn't Harry or the king Corlath, it's... KELAR!

The Good

1. The world is fully and nicely realized. While there are some claims that a new language was invented... not really. There are a few words here n there and that's all. Nevertheless, it is quite easy to imagine the Darian landscape and its people. They have a real heft to them, the weight of existence.

2. Writing is very plain. Which is a negative. But it is very earnest. Which is a positive. While the story is lackluster, the writer never tries to spruce it up with fancy writing. A simple and easy read.

3. It's a perfect YA book - it's a coming-of-age (fancy word: bildungsroman) experience through and through. That is its entire point even. My complaints about the lack of conflict are, therefore, not entirely valid when the book is viewed in this guise. The conflict then, would be person-against-self, Darian-Harry vs old Outlander-Harry.

My Theory On Its High Rating

1. People love a good destined hero or heroine. I don't. I think that having the hero be magically-destined ruins the humanity of that character. An external magic power forcing her destiny removes (or weakens) the element of choice. Which makes for a far less compelling character.

2. The book is escapist. The plot itself is about Harry escaping her civilization. Harry is a Mary Sue (very little actual characterization). The detailed setting and culture is perfect for a fantastical escape. I don't think escapism is bad; in fact, I love the idea of a book as a portal into other minds and places.

But I do hate Mary Sues. If you were to ask me to describe Harry, I would have trouble writing more than a paragraph or two.

3. It's a simple, easy read. People like that, and I have no beef. I actually read books as an almost visceral experience, the pure sense delight of seeing a well-crafted metaphor or a fabulous line of dialogue. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate plain, unpretentious writing either.
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,126 reviews2,165 followers
July 31, 2012
I don’t get it. I just don’t. Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword has been acclaimed as one of the most remarkable fantasy novels of our age, but I am unable to see why. I suppose the best way I can describe The Blue Sword is to tell you that it is similar to a camp-fire story – entertaining, filled with action and heroes, a rather under-developed romance, and ultimately, a story that needs to be told again and again with more and more details filled in every time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that while I loved the world-building in this story, much of it felt like a mere outline which McKinley had forgotten to go back and develop in many parts. Thus, while I most certainly liked this novel, I by no means loved it and nor do I see exactly what is so remarkable about it.

I suppose it all really comes down to the writing style and execution of this story, not to mention the characters. Harry Crewe, our enigmatic heroine, is kidnapped from her foster home and taken to the Hills where the Damarians, mysterious hill-folk that can perform magic, reside. It is a dangerous time for her nation as the Northerners, an inhuman race, plan to attack and the hill-people of Damar whose numbers have steadily dwindled for years, are in grave danger. Thus, their king, Corlath, looks to the Outlanders for aid and, when receiving none, feels a strange pull towards Harry, who seems to have an affinity for the magic of the Hills as well. It is then that Harry realizes her true destiny as the savior of these people and along with the legendary Blue Sword, sets out to meet her fate.

The Blue Sword sounds interesting enough and I suppose it is, but it took awhile to get into. I felt as if the writing style was deliberately distant and slow-moving and it took awhile to become accustomed to it. In fact, I’m still not sure if I quite am. McKinley tends to describe many aspects of Damarian life such as customs of the hill-folk, the beautiful horses they ride, and even the setting of her lands, but she fails to make the reader connect with anything much beyond that. Not only does her writing wander a bit, she also shifts between using the Damarian and Outlander names for certain things which becomes cumbersome and irritating after awhile. Yet, I found the biggest downfall to be in the characters themselves.

While I loved the strong themes of woman empowerment in this story, I never felt a connection with Harry in the least. Not only is she vastly different from other characters, she is incredibly mature – so mature that she does not question the reasons for her kidnapping as she begins to innately understand them, but nor does she question any of the other actions in this story. Furthermore, while we are told about Harry’s conflicting emotions concerning the Damarians and the Outlander heritage she has grown up with, it is hard to sympathize or feel for her due to the narration. Thus, I was quite annoyed with Harry for her utter placidness and inability to take action until the last part of the novel. Yet, while I enjoyed the battle scenes in the end, I never felt as if I could pinpoint or understand Harry’s growth – it was all very sudden and hard to truly see. Furthermore, the friendships she made were never elaborated on and became strong with a simple smile, which leads the reader to believe that there are missing pages from their copy of the book. So really, Harry was not the only under-developed character in this tale.

That being said, I still did like reading The Blue Sword. It had many technical flaws in its writing and narration and while I could not connect with the characters and don’t feel as if I know Corlath, the enigmatic Damarian king who later becomes Harry’s husband, I think the setting and political intrigue of this novel is remarkable. Yet, I firmly believe that in the hands of a different author, The Blue Sword could have been the fantastic tale other readers gush over. For all my enjoyment of this story, I don’t think I will be reading much more of Robin McKinley in the future, not matter how wonderful her storytelling is proclaimed.

You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
118 reviews16 followers
April 6, 2010
Partly through reading this book I began a list of "Things you must have in your typical girly-adventure novel."

1. Main character must acquire godlike combat skills in a matter of weeks even if she has never demonstrated any previous ability. Check.

2. Main character must have cool sword with cool name. Check.

3. Main character must have animal companions. (In this case, stallion and giant cat.) Animals must be prettier, smarter, and more useful than anyone else's. Check.

4. Strange and interesting culture, which is preferable to the imperialist culture but still overly exoticized. Check.

5. Main character receives at least three separate incredibly important positions in this culture. Check.

6. Main character breaks all the rules and still gets rewarded. Check.

7. Enemies are non-human and ugly so you don't have to feel bad about killing them. The moral being, accept different cultures as long as they're not too different. Check.

8. Deus ex machina ending where the main character kills all the baddies in one giant sparkly super attack. Check.

9. Obvious but curiously juvenile sexual tension with the most important person in the interesting culture, resolved when hero and badass king fall into each other's arms in the final pages. Check.

Overall impression: The writing isn't bad, but the plot failed to move me in any way. Harry and the other characters didn't really stand out to me from the myriad fantasy stock characters I've seen. The situation is really cool: a British imperialist culture and a pseudo arab culture, where a girl from an outpost of the former becomes a hero of the latter. But as the plot went on I found myself counting the cliches instead of being invested in the characters.

Recommends: for people less picky than I am.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 58 books746 followers
July 8, 2017
Re-read 6/26/17: See below, plus the audiobook version was really good despite a couple of odd mispronunciations by the reader. There is so much I didn't get about the relationship between Harry and Corlath (from the initial abduction on) when I was young that I appreciate better now.

Read 6/23/13: Back when I was twelve or thirteen and tearing through the YA shelves at the library, I picked this book up and immediately set it aside because the first paragraph seemed boring. I did that at least six times before, something having changed inside my head, I finally decided to read it. It is still my favorite book by Robin McKinley and a wonderful adventure story, initial maunderings about orange juice aside. (I am now old enough to appreciate McKinley's writing, but between this and Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster series I wonder at the things that used to be designated as YA.)

I wonder, too, that Harry's character as a relatively unfeminine, tall, horse-loving young woman doesn't put me off; these days (as I am now old and crotchety) I have little use for stories about girls Oppressed By Society who have complete disdain for the womanly arts. I think it's because Harry, for all her unfeminine ways, is still very much a woman and still responds to her surroundings as such--just not the way most of her peers would. In Damar, surrounded by "natives," she finds many other women who behave the way she wants to and are still feminine. I think, despite what McKinley says, that Harry's journey into this foreign country would have been a homecoming even had she not had blood ties to it.

I love Harry's relationship with Corlath, and not just the romantic one; they are each troubled by the other from the moment their eyes meet and she doesn't look away. She is his equal, and more, which makes their romance sweeter and more solid than if it had based on love at first sight, though you could argue that it *was* based on that. The characterization is all around good work, really. If I have a problem with the book, it's that I don't know how I feel about the wrapping-up McKinley does in the last chapter. I enjoy it, but I feel it may be sloppy, which is disquieting, so I tell that part of my brain to shut up and I go on enjoying it.

This is one of the books I make my kids read. They, too, have trouble getting past the orange juice, but they, too, love it when they're finished.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,578 reviews402 followers
July 20, 2021
2019 Review
My earlier review describes this book as a security blanket. I find the analogy remains apt. The first few words of The Blue Sword (quoted below) still relax me like almost nothing else. I enter a little bubble of contentment just thinking about them.
I know this world. I know these words.
But like a favored blanket from my childhood, I no longer need this book. The sentences remain familiar and comforting. I can trace the weave of the words, the faded colors, and the frayed edges. I feel a burst of all my old affection. But I do not depend on them for my strength anymore.
You see, when I read The Blue Sword over and over again in high school, I was a restless teenager, anxious to tackle the world and prove myself. In Hari, I saw someone like me. Someone who burst from her hum-drum, normal life and became...more.
And now, at 25, I have become more. I live in Thailand. I study law. I have daily adventures. I might not slay demon warriors or date magic kings, but let me tell you, I rode on a motorcycle taxi the other day wearing a possibly lice infested helmet 2 sizes too big while the driver texted and drove, and I dare anyone to call Hari's experience getting kidnapped more terrifying.
I re-read this book slowly, familiarly, and without feeling like I needed it. Rather, I felt a slight nostalgia mixed with...amusement. I did it. I became my own heroine and so I don't need this heroine as much.
At the same time, if I changed my rating, I think I might rate The Blue Sword 5 stars this time. Not because of the plot, or the characters, but because it captures emotions I could not begin to understand at 15. Like the feeling of bridging two worlds, of feeling like a stranger even while being surrounded by people, of helplessness and destiny. These things I recognized but did not know. And now that I know them, I doubly appreciate how this story prepared me for them. Or maybe just gave me words to describe them.
This book is my security blanket - but one I outgrew. Yet I will always love it for giving me an outlet as a teenager to reach for something more. And, in its own way, for giving me identity as an adult as I re-read familiar words with new eyes and understand how they structured who I am today.
I am my own heroine because of heroines like Hari Crewe who helped me on the way.

2016 Review
She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here – was it only three months ago? – with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day…

How do I explain the feeling I get when I read those words, the beginning sentences of this book? It is like a shiver goes down my back. Like I just bit into one of those oranges...and it is sweeter and juicier then I expected. Suddenly I feel like I am everywhere and nowhere. A part of me is already with Harry in Istan, drinking orange juice and attempting to be pleased, but another part of me is back to where I’ve stood so many times, behind the last bookshelf at the library, consuming the magical words I’ve dawdled in and played with time and time again. Because that has become as much a part of the memory, too…catching a few words of a favorite book in my favorite way to escape the stresses of school and life…
The Blue Sword is probably my favorite book by Robin McKinley. It holds its own in that precious list of books I can’t even put words to, books I’ll read and re-read and probably re-read again. Maybe someday I’ll try and make it a shelf, but I’ve tried before, and failed.

The plot of The Blue Sword…
Harry Crewe’s Father dies and sent to live with her soldier brother in the wild, untamed Istan, almost a combination of the unsettled United States colonies during the early 1700’s and colonial India in the early 1900’s. I could be wrong there, but that is the imaging I’ve always gotten. She tries to please Sir Charles and Lady Amelia, the kind couple who took her in, but settling down to the relaxed, lazy life of Istan drives her crazy. She loves the desert though…the mysterious wasteland hovering tantalizingly just outside the settlement. No Homelander lives there; it is the land of the mysterious old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk. Rumor has it they possess strange powers, and many a man would give his life for the opportunity to ride once upon their beautiful, powerful horses.
When Corlath, the King of the Hilkfold, comes to Istan with a warning and the offer of an alliance, he only half thinks they’ll believe him. It was a desperate move, but these were desperate times. The tall, blond haired young woman he saw as he stormed out should have been only another face…but unfortunately, it is one that won’t go away. His Gift, the trait passed through the Royal bloodline, won’t let him forget it. In fact, it will drive him to do the unthinkable…
Kidnap the Homelander Girl.

When I first picked up this book…I did so because I felt somehow like I had read it before. I have never been able to figure out why. But oh! I am so glad I did. At the risk of repeating myself, this is the book that, frustrated with the junk our library called teen books, I’d rush over and pick up off the shelf. And I’d re-read those first few sentences, and maybe if my day had gone particularly bad, I’d allow myself to sink into a nearby chair and just keep reading. The first sentence.
Then a paragraph.
Then a page…
You know how some little kids have blankies? Well, I have books.
And this was one of them.
But enough about that, what makes this book good?
Well, Harry Crewe for one. She’s an amazing character. She grows, changes…finds purpose. She has emotions, but they’re not irritating. You don’t feel like beheading the heroine after she spends pages whining about her everything and everyone in her life. But she isn’t annoyingly perfect. She’s human, yet strong and believable . Most of all, what I think makes readers appreciate her…and what makes girls of all ages feel like they can relate to her…is simply because of who she is. Especially when we first find her, longing for something. Hunting for purpose. What teenage girl would argue they’ve never felt that way? Felt like running off into the wild unknown, daydreaming about handsome kings and horses and destiny. I sure have. And Harry…well, she kind of does too. But most of all, we look at her and see a somewhat forgotten girl. Someone who lives each day kind of bored, strong and beautiful, yet surprisingly unaware of it…and unaware of the gift she holds (oooh…yeah, I’m not giving anything away ;) ) And then one day…BAM! She learns who she is and there is adventure and romance and, frankly, awesomeness.
And if you like horses? There are some wicked-awesome horses in this book.
But there is also a bit of everything. It’s a fantastic plot. It weaves fantasy at some of its best, with actual struggles and memorable, good characters and interesting elements. Of adventure and romance and a hint of mystery and suspense.
I know what you’re thinking now…after all this rambling, why did I give it four stars?
That is a bit trickier to answer, but in all fairness it must be done.
1. The writing. Oh it is good! Very good, but not amazing. It needs just a little more maturing to be worth five stars.
2. I have a confession…I didn’t adore (positively, head-over-heels) adore the Corlath. I know! Shocking. Horrifying. But I didn’t. I liked him a great deal��but he wasn’t a five star guy.
3. Well…I guess simply, I love the book, but it isn’t a five star story. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer was five stars. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris is five stars. This is four stars.

If you love adventure, romance, or even ever felt like running away and finding a purpose…this book is for you. It is passionate and adventure filled and truly one of those forgotten books that proves how stupid modern teen writing is. Compare it to a “modern” fantasy novel, Graceling or Mistwood The Blue Sword just blows them out of the water. There is no comparison.
So, if you have made it to the end of this tiresomely long review of how much I love this book…congratulations.
Really, if you are a teenage girl (like at all!) who has ever struggled with feeling forgotten, longed for a purpose, or simply just wanted to chuck life and head for the hills…you’ll love this book.
I know I do.
To complete in the line I began with…
But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it – to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity…

On a very far-off side note, while I recommend this book, I do not recommend it’s sequel… The Hero and The Sword. Many of the reviewers on here mention how much they love it. Splendid. I found it had all the things that made this book lose a star…and three more.
Profile Image for C.E. Murphy.
Author 86 books1,743 followers
February 25, 2013
I had a hard time reading this for purely physical reason: my copy of THE BLUE SWORD is very probably 30 years old, and the fragile yellowed pages are losing their tenuous grip on the broken spine. I was afraid it would fall apart in my hands, and thus was weirdly careful with not only the book but the reading of it. I believe I'll seek out Robin McKinley at the nearest possible opportunity, ask her to sign my beloved and battered book, and retire it with honors alongside my equally ancient and beaten-up signed copy of DRAGONSONG.

The truth is, had discussion about HERO in my last Recent Reads post not pointed it out to me, it probably never would have occurred to me how passive a character Harry is. She is (in essence) The Chosen One, just as Garion is, and throughout the book, the story impels her forward rather than her own choices driving the story forward. The major break from that is of course her departure from Corlath's army, but with how it's written, even that is arguably her kelar forcing her rather than her own will.

It doesn't matter. Not to me, anyway. THE BLUE SWORD is very close to my heart, because it's one of the very first books--possibly the first book--I read with an awareness of genre, with an awareness that I was reading A Fantasy Novel. I first read it when I was ten, the year after it came out, as one of the books for Battle of the Books, and it utterly swept me away. I was in love with Harry, I was in love with Corlath, I was, dear God, in love with Tsornin.

And I still am. I was right, in re-reading HERO: Aerin is the stronger heroine, and HERO probably the stronger book. And indeed, upon re-read I discover that Harry's big magic scene at the end of THE BLUE SWORD is acid-trippy as well, though not as mind-numbingly weird as Aerin's. As an adult, it's easier to admire Aerin's stubbornness and the trials and tribulations she goes through to achieve her happy ending, and to appreciate that Harry essentially gets it all handed to her on a platter.

But when you're ten and you're caught up as Harry was, stranger in a strange land, but a land that speaks to you, and you are taken away to be important in that world...well. Yes. It's ultimate wish-fulfillment, and McKinley has said as much about that book, but it's okay. And I think that will never go away, so I think THE BLUE SWORD retains its place of preference in my heart. After all, a little wish fulfillment never hurt anybody. :)

But *God* I wish there were more Damar books. I know she doesn't write sequels, I've known all her reason for twenty years, I respect them, I'm not pleading with her to write more, but *oh* how I wish there were more.
Profile Image for Debbie.
301 reviews35 followers
March 1, 2008
Effusion warning: the following is not a review - it's more like a wordy shrine to Robin McKinley.

This is one of my favorite books of all time. One of the many reasons is that I discovered it all by myself (well, not quite by myself; a librarian put it on the shelf where I could find it - thank you, librarian!).

I was browsing the shelves at the Lee Library, and I think it was the title that first caught my attention. If I remember correctly, I took it down and flipped through it. I wasn't completely sure about it, but I checked it out. And that was that! I've been an ardent Robin McKinley fan ever since. Later I took a Children's Lit class in which McKinley was discussed, so I am reassured that even if I hadn't checked out the book that day, my life would not have been McKinley-less for too much longer.

As an English major, I (supposedly) read a lot of good books during my time at college. The ones that have stayed with me, however, are the young adult books I read for fun, and I maintain that reading Robin McKinley's books was one of the most important literary experiences I had during my time at school.

Shelved as 'wishlist'
September 24, 2020
This book is currently on sale for $1.99!

I remember reading this book when I was young and all I remember from this book are

1) the heroine spent the entire beginning of the book bitching about how much she hated orange juice


2) I had to throw my copy out after I spilled soda all over it
Profile Image for Melody.
2,629 reviews262 followers
October 31, 2008
I loved this book. With all my heart. It starts with a girl who doesn't quite fit, then builds from there. There are demons and heroes and enchanted swords and true love. Also legends and big loving cats and semi-supernatural archers. Did I mention evil? Oh, and kings and proto-British cavalry? And horses from the fever-dreams of Alec Ramsey! Palatial tents. The best kinds of friendship, the kinds which transcend rank and sex and age.

The plot is classic, the story arc undeniably satisfying, and the writing superb.

Where was I when this book came out? I wish I'd had it earlier, but I'm glad I have it now. Another for the permanent collection.
Profile Image for Carrie Vaughn.
Author 268 books4,346 followers
January 18, 2009
Probably my favorite book. This is coming with me to my desert island.
Profile Image for Logan.
1,300 reviews34 followers
October 1, 2014
My suspicion of all silver-medallion-marked books remains unshaken.

I really don't know what went wrong here. Clearly the main audience of this book (female) thinks it is a childhood classic. Therefore a) I must be the incorrect gender, b) missed the age window, c) was born in the incorrect era to enjoy it. It really, really makes me wonder if the people who love it were born in a certain period, are of a certain gender, and were a certain age when they first read it.

The story did not capture me at all. My impression is that this was something...

Dislikes: from a guy's perspective, describing a one-on-one duel with an opponent by saying "her sword flashed and the sash fluttered to the ground" is extremely lame.

I thought her whole attitude to this thing was rather bland. In fact, the main character, almost all the characters seemed rather bland. Pretty much a ho-hum, whatever comes, comes, attitude.

This "kelar" (magic) thing the main character has is ridiculous. It's completely unexplained but it can do anything: visions of the future? Sure. Speak an ancient language? Why not? Turn you into an amazing warrior who can defeat seasoned riders and fighters? Yup. Make a mountain float up in the air and crush your enemies DBZ-style? Piece of cake. Connect you to an ancient mystical female warrior? Of course. Break through walls? Nothing to it. But it makes you angry and gives you a headache. Just sayin'.

Technical issues: the prose bothered me for some reason. I felt like I never got to know the characters, like I was being told the story of a story, rather than getting to read one. Perhaps it was this "superior" tone that made me dislike "Wrinkle in Time" as well (don't hurt me!). But it felt so lifeless and mind-numbing that I'd often find myself having to re-read the page or skip back to figured where in the world I am. It ALL BLURRED TOGETHER, from one scene to the next. I do a fair bit of reading and this is the first book in a long while that made me space out in the middle of a page.

It also bothered me that in the middle of a paragraph it would switch from third person to first without any kind of typographical indication that suddenly this was the person's thoughts. Lastly, the editing seemed lacking in areas, which is odd because I understand the author used to be an editor. Maybe it's hard to edit your own stuff?

I tried to give it a fair shot, really I did. In the end I guess I'm just out of place, time, and gender.
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
October 31, 2011
I missed my “Robin McKinley window” by about thirty years. If I had had the good fortune to come across this novel when I was fourteen, I’m sure I would have sought out more of her work and enjoyed them to the same extent as I enjoyed authors such as Andre Norton or Lloyd Alexander (whom I did have the luck to meet around this time in my life). As it happens, I’m too experienced a reader (and, mayhap, too cynical?) to fully appreciate the spirit in which the book is written. There were too many niggling “off” things for me to immerse myself, and chief among them was the heroine, Harry, who never became sufficiently “real” enough for me to care for her.

But I don’t want to come down on McKinley too harshly or suggest that this isn’t a good book. In fact, I’m including it (and its sequel, The Hero and the Crown) in my nieces’ Xmas care package this year because I think they’d enjoy it. (And, I’m happy to say, I’m enjoying the aforementioned sequel much more than The Blue Sword, the reasons for which I’ll elaborate on in my review of that work when I’m finished.)

Recommended? Yes, though not for middle-aged, curmudgeonly sticks in the mud.
Profile Image for kris.
937 reviews187 followers
January 18, 2022
2014 Review:
HARRY. OH HARRY. I loved her. I have a lot of feelings about Harry and how she reacts to becoming a pawn in some bigger puzzle and trying to balance that with who she believes herself to be, and lkdfjkdj more Harry.


Also read: 5 February 2013; 8 December 2014; 6 December 2019
Profile Image for Sarah.
732 reviews73 followers
March 22, 2016
I'm on the fence about this book :) It had some major flaws, mostly that it was so focused on the main story that it lacked some depth. The character gets abducted and becomes this warrior with little passing thought to what she's actually experiencing. She goes with the flow but doesn't really stop to question that flow. It's actually really weird. The Hillfolk appear to be a highly romanticized and idealized version of the Ottoman Turks, with the Outlanders appearing to be basically English, including a reference to St. George. But everybody eventually loves each other and all problems are resolved and they all live happily ever after.

The other side of the fence? I got really caught up in the story whenever I could ignore how it glossed over many important things. During the battle scene towards the end I found myself gripping my book very tightly. And the 10 year old inside me picked up a sword and was screaming a battle cry as I fought by Harry's side. Given the way this book didn't look at the downside of things, it's no real surprise that the ending was a whole series of happily-ever-afters. It went on for awhile and was quite sappy. Yet I found myself with tears in my eyes at one point and a smile on my face as I closed the book.

In short - it was shallow but enjoyable and I wish I had discovered it when I was a kid :)
Profile Image for Vicky.
61 reviews
August 12, 2011
I think I liked this book better when I was a young adult. I enjoyed the story: a girl, going by the unusual nickname of Harry, gets kidnapped by natives (called Hillmen), learns their ways and effectively becomes a native, discovers she has magic, and becomes the key to saving her new people from the big, bad, nonhuman Northerners. It's a fun, if not totally original, adventure. And the writing is overall pretty good.

My biggest complaint was that there hardly seemed to be any conflict in the story. Nothing was ever hard for this girl. Learn a new language in a couple weeks? No problem. Become an expert horsewoman without the use of reins or stirrups? Done in the blink of an eye. Train and become an expert swordswoman in six weeks? Piece of cake. Defeat immense Northerner army with just a small company of soldiers? No sweat, just use the magic to pull the mountains down and bury the army.

There wasn't even anyone who disliked Harry or was jealous of her magic. Everyone liked, respected, or admired her. Even some animals befriended her. Not one word was whispered against her for being a foreigner with strange powers. She was treated with patience and respect at all times. It drove me a little crazy how everything seemed so easy for her.
Profile Image for L.
779 reviews21 followers
September 8, 2022
Finding a home

When I was growing up my father's job kept my family moving. Mom and Dad eventually settled down, but just when they did I became an itinerant academic, moving to study and work at various research institutions. I was a 27 year old grad student at Stanford when I first read The Blue Sword and the longest I had ever lived in one place was six years. (Understand, I am not complaining -- I was and am a Happy Nomad.) There's a peculiar type of homesickness experienced by rootless people. One usually thinks of homesickness as being away from and missing a very specific place -- the place one calls home. But I had no place to call home. And yet I sometimes felt homesick -- I felt the lack of a home -- all the more because there was no home where I longed to be.

In the first few chapters of The Blue Sword I immediately recognized this feeling of rootless homesickness in Angharad (Harry) Crewe, the hero of the book. As the book begins Harry has just come from the Homeland (a thinly disguised England) to join her bother in Damar because the death of her parents left her without a home. I immediately fell in love with Harry. She is brave and clever and funny.

For me The Blue Sword is about Harry finding a home in Damar.

There is also, of course, a much more detailed story, involving a war and kelar (which is what they call magic in Damar) and -- you guessed it -- a blue sword. (Point of order -- the sword is not literally blue, being made of metal, as swords typically are. It bears a blue gem on the hilt.) It's a good, exciting story.

Because of The Blue Sword, McKinley became (and remains) one of my favorite authors. I have reread The Blue Sword many times, most recently in 2011.

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