Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley (Greenwillow Books - 1982)

Series: Damar 

When Harry Crewe's father dies, she leaves her Homeland to travel east, to Istan, the last outpost of the Homelander empire, where her elder brother is stationed. Harry is drawn to the bleak landscape of the northeast frontier, so unlike the green hills of her Homeland. The desert she stares across was once a part of the great kingdom of Damar, before the Homelanders came from over the seas. Harry wishes she might cross the sands and climb the dark mountains where no Homelander has ever set foot, where the last of the old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk, still live. She hears stories that the Free Hillfolk possess strange powers -- that they work magic -- that it is because of this that they remain free of the Homelander sway.

When the king of the Free Hillfolk comes to Istan to ask that the Homelanders and the Hillfolk set their enmity aside to fight a common foe, the Homelanders are reluctant to trust his word, and even more reluctant to believe his tales of the Northerners: that they are demonkind, not human.

Harry's destiny lies in the far mountains that she once wished to climb, and she will ride to the battle with the North in the Hill-king's army, bearing the Blue Sword, Gonturan, the chiefest treasure of the Hill-king's house and the subject of many legends of magic and mystery. 

I love this book.  I haven't read it for many years, but it called to me for a reread.  Harry has come to Damar after her father's death to be with her brother.   There is something about the land that draws her like nothing else ever has.  When Corlath, king of the Hillfolk, comes to Istan to warn of a threat to all of them there is something about him that speaks to her also.  After his warnings are ignored, Corlath leaves, but returns in the dark of night to steal Harry away, as his powers demand.  This begins a journey for Harry that opens up a whole new world and way of life to her.  

I absolutely love both Harry and Corlath.  Harry is miserably unhappy in the Homelander settlement.  She is used to being able to do things and her life is now very restricted.  She also doesn't feel like she really fits in anywhere.  She finds a couple people there that seem to feel the same way about Damar that she does, that see the beauty of that land.  When Corlath kidnaps her, she doesn't understand why.  She also feels like she doesn't fit in there, as she is mostly ignored at first.  When the magic of the Hillfolk finds her, Corlath starts to soften toward her and begins to understand why he was called to take her.  His elite guard, the Riders, begin to accept her when they see that she possesses the same magic the king does.  Then Corlath has one of the Riders begin to train her as a female warrior.  Her journey through the fear of her kidnapping, the culture shock of her training, then her melding of her two worlds is an incredible story of growth.  It is not easy for her.  We see the difficulty of her training, the culmination of that training, and then the decisions she has to make along the way.  Corlath is a man with an impossible job.  He has a very small kingdom that is being threatened by a less than human foe.  His attempts at getting some help fail, but his powers require him to steal away the Outlander girl without telling him why.  Their initial days together are rough because he doesn't want her there and she can tell.  But when her visions make it obvious that she will play an important role, Corlath takes steps to make sure she is ready.  I loved the way that Harry eventually takes to the training, though it is difficult at first.  We also see her discomfort with the way everyone seems to be counting on her, though she is determined to do her best.  She also has no trouble standing up to Corlath and trying to make him see what she tries to tell him.  She wrestles with her decision on what she has to do, but ultimately does what she feels is right.  The characters in this book are so well done that they feel absolutely real to me.  I can feel their torment and their happiness and I can't help rooting for them, even when I know what will happen.  My favorite part in the entire book is Harry's reappearance at the Outlander fort.  I also love her training sessions and her return to Corlath at the end.  I highly recommend this book and its prequel The Hero and the Crown to everyone, but especially those looking for strong female role models for girls.

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