Erik's Reviews > The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
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Sep 12, 2011

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bookshelves: scififantasy, young-adult, detailed-review

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.
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Marjolein I completely agree on your characterization of Harry (or lack there of) : ). McKinley is a wonderful writer, but her main characters always tend to be Mary Sue-ish. I think Mary Sue-ness is more accepted in children's books, because children tend to see themselves in an over-positive light (At least that's why I like the books so much more when I was 12)


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