4.24.2013

Currently Reading: The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)She thought again of the mounting strangenesses of her recent life; and she wished, if she was to be given to Damar, as apparently she was, that she would be given no more long pauses of inaction in which to brood about it all.

One of the young women who had assisted her at her bath brought her food, in the blue front room with the fountain, or outside in the sunshine where the other fountain played; and she managed to convince her and the other women sent to wait upon her that, at least as long as there were no more banquets requiring special preparations, she might bathe herself. For three more days she slept and watched the shimmering of the air and rode Tsornin and played with Narknon. There was a friendship between the horse and the hunting-cat now, and they would chase one another around the obstacles of the practice field, Narknon's tail lashing and Sungold with his ears back in mock fury. Once the big cat had hidden behind one of the grassy banks, where Harry and Sungold could not see her; and as they rode by she leaped out at them, sailing clean over Sungold and Harry on his back. Harry ducked and Sungold swerved; and Narknon circled and came back to them with her ears back and her whiskers trembling in what was obviously a cat laugh.

And Harry polished Gonturan and tried not to brood, and looked often at the small white scar in the palm of her hand. But with all her inevitable musings she found that a certain peace had come to her and made its way into her heart. It was not like anything she had known before, and it was only on that third day that she found a name for it: fate.

Author: Robin McKinley

From Goodreads: 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?

Notes: The Blue Sword is a common favorite among McKinley's broad range of work, and it's easy to guess—however accurately or inaccurately—why. Though stylistically it's more of a traditional fantasy story than many of her other works, it's a shorter, clearer, more romantic read than the Discworldish Spindle's End, the thickly fairy-tale-voiced Beauty, or the intimate and detailed The Hero and the Crown, the latter of which is a companion novel to this one.

Harry Crewe is a solid, likable protagonist in a solidly developed, likable world, and she's lucky enough to have two of the more lovable animal friends ever to be granted to a fictional character: the war-horse Tsornin/Sungold and the leopard Narknon are as fleshed out and interesting as any of the human characters. Corlath, while flawed, is also lovable and does a credible job in the role of romantic hero. And Harry herself gets all kind of exciting adventures; she does everything from crossing swords with Corlath himself to leading a ragtag army against a band of demoniac Northerners.

I'm a big Spindle's End fan myself, and it took me about seventy-five pages to really get Harry, who seemed at first to be halfway between Rosie of the spindles (tall, strong, plain) and Aerin of The Hero and the Crown (introspective), without any strongly defining personality features of her own. To be fair, this was partly due to situation; her story began with her having lost much of what she'd once defined herself by. As soon as she began adjusting to life with the Damarians, her confidence took shape, and her character trajectory is well-drawn and satisfying.

While her narrative feels complete, the story itself contains some side plots and characters that could have taken more air time. The tree people appeared from nowhere and faded right back into the same place—I'd have resented them as filanon ex machina if they hadn't been so interesting. Harry's magic show was rather startling in its abruptness and thoroughness. And Jack Dedham didn't get shorted, exactly, but he made so much of his few scenes that I'd definitely have taken more of him.

The Blue Sword reads more quickly and easily than its later-written prequel—The Hero and the Crown—and resolves more cleanly. Perhaps a little too cleanly. But it's a grand adventure story, and it's hard to imagine a horse-loving pre-teen girl who wouldn't develop an ardent passion for it on first read.

P.S. I do have to load McKinley down with brownie points, not only for using semicolons in nearly every paragraph, but for using them with much more devotion to clarity than to technical accuracy (at least, by the usage I'm familiar with.) As far as I'm concerned, the modern antagonism toward the semicolon in fiction is one of the greater absurdities commonly supposed to be a rule. Have I made it clear that I love semicolons? I love them. I should use more of them myself. All right, I'll stop now.

5 comments:

  1. Yes, but her name is Harry. I am going to have to call her something else when I read it or this will not go well.

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    1. Hahaha! Understandable. But technically, her name is Angharad, though she insists on being called Harry... until the Hillfolk can't pronounce it, and she gets called Hari, and then Harimad-sol. But I even got used to the Harry, weirdly enough. :)

      I'll plan on bringing it down on Monday. You want The Hero and the Crown, too?

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    2. YES PLEASE!!! I am looking forward to some serious reading as we wind down the school year. Plus I miss you. Come over... :(

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    3. I miss you too!! And I will plan on coming down Monday with the books. :)

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  2. Beth & I had to go to Cheyenne yesterday for an eye appointment for her but more importantly to buy cat food & treats at Petco. Anyway, on the way home we got to talking about another book entirely & got around to McKinley. Beth thought The Blue Sword one of McKinley's better books. Said I would probably like it. So, I'll give your review a closer look sometime & then maybe pick up the book. Beth actually has one of those old-timey forms of book downstairs. And of course I still need to read Spindle's End. :)

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