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The Blue Sword    by Robin McKinley order for
Blue Sword
by Robin McKinley
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2007 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tall young Angharad 'Harry' Crewe arrives in Daria (reminiscent of Kipling's Northern India) from Home. Her brother Richard is posted at Istan, a 'little eastern station at the farthest-flung border of the Homelander empire' as 'a very junior military adjutant'. On the death of their father, Richard's superior, Sir Charles (the District Commissioner) and his wife Lady Amelia offered Harry a home with them. She quickly falls in love with the harsh desert and mountains, though she doesn't feel that she fits in with the Homelanders - she is hardly a proper young lady and would rather ride than mingle in society any day.

Harry has been there only a few weeks when a deputation arrives from the mysterious - and reputedly magical - Hillfolk, led by King Corlath, ruler of Damar. The Northerners - united by a powerful sorceror - are massing an army of half a million to invade his land and then all of Daria, and Corlath wants military help from the Homelanders to close the mountain passes. The meeting does not go well and an infuriated Corlath sweeps out, encountering Harry as he leaves. Prompted strongly by his powerful kelar (a magic that runs strongly in him but in few of his people nowadays), and not knowing quite why it prompts him to do this, Corlath returns and kidnaps Harry from her room, taking her back north with him.

Though treated with the utmost respect by Corlath and his people, this is naturally a frightening experience for the young woman they call Harimad, but she gradually adjusts to the culture shock - and to the greater shock of discovering that she has strong kelar. (She also acquires a wildcat as companion.) Corlath has her trained to compete in his people's laprun trials (that test riding and fighting skills) and she excels. He then gives her the famous blue sword of his ancestress Aerin (whose story is told in McKinley's The Hero and the Crown) to wield against the Northerners. But as they journey to battle, Harry is pulled in a different direction towards a danger that she sees clearly but cannot convince Corlath to take seriously.

This young heroine heeds an enigmatic oracle's advice to 'Take strength from your own purpose, for you will know what you must do if you let yourself', and picks up a growing train of followers along the way to a confrontation with the enemy at the Madamer Gate. There, when all seems lost, she calls on her kelar, on Aerin, and on Corlath, to extraordinary effect. I have read The Blue Sword often, enjoying it anew each time I picked it up. It is action-packed, romantic, and magical, with a heroine who is equally strong and vulnerable, as most young women are.

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