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Cannonball Read III: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

By marya | Books | August 22, 2011 |

By marya | Books | August 22, 2011 |

I’m taking advantage of the relaxed Cannonball rules on previously-read books, and reviewing The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, a book that I’ve read at least a dozen times in the past 10 years.

I might be rationalizing, but as I re-read it I started thinking about why I continued to return to this story again and again. It’s not laziness. There’s something deeper going on, something I get from a book like this that is comforting. Like a literary binky. I realized some things about myself in reading it this time around.

The story itself: The Blue Sword is straight-up fantasy, so if phrases like “mysterious ancient sword,” or “Corlath, king of the Hill Folk” give you the heebie-jeebies, it may not be for you. But in saying that I’m being glib, and doing Robin McKinley a great disservice. She is a fantastic writer, and if you don’t go for swords and sorcery, at least check out her adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and Robin Hood. Unlike some fantasy writers, McKinley grounds her extraordinary worlds in very ordinary, relatable people.

Eighty years ago, the continent of Daria was conquered by the Homelanders, and the native people have either been pushed to the hills on the fringes of the continent, or subjugated by a sort of magnanimous racism. Think the Rudyard Kipling’s India, with a little dash of 19th century Afghanistan thrown in.

Our heroine, Harry Crewe, is tall, gangly, and not particularly pretty. When her father dies, she’s shipped off to the hinterlands of Daria to stay with her younger brother. She arrives in the unsettled border regions of the Darian desert, and finds herself abruptly thrust in to the conflict between the free Hill people and the Homelander settlers.

The people of the hills are the last remnant of the pre-colonial kingdom of Damar, a place where something like magic permeates the land. They are facing extinction, as they desperately try to protect what’s left of their culture from the Homelanders to the south, and the malevolent tribes advancing on them from the north. And those Northerners are …not quite right.

It’s a great story of people pushed to the extreme, trying to keep it together in the face of insurmountable odds. The stakes are high, the villains are clear-cut, and the sacrifices are noble.

I think that’s why this book, and others like it, are an escape for me. A novel doesn’t have to be saccharine or silly to be escapist. It just needs to have a certain sort of expansiveness and grandeur to it.

The world I live in is a complicated, frustrating, anxious place. There’s nothing grand or heroic about the problems I face. So, as silly as it sounds, the image of a girl on a horse, carrying a mysterious ancient sword and facing down a horde of bloodthirsty demons? That’s my literary binky.

For more of marya’s reviews, check out her blog, Mary A Reads.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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