My copy of The Blue Sword was used to begin with. It's gained some creases along its spine along with a bit of scuffing since I bought it, but this book has been such a treasure that I take special care to avoid creases anywhere else. So, even though I read it once or twice a year, it's still in great shape.
I picked it up along with its prequel, The Hero and the Crown, at a used book store. I'd never heard of Robin McKinley, but the woman on horseback wielding a blue magic sword captured my attention. It's not a fancy cover. The background is simply a wash of sandy yellow fading up into muted teal. But it promised magic.
It delivered so much more.
Harry Crewe is a bit of an eccentric. For one thing, she refuses to go by her given name of Angharad, much to her brother Richard's dismay. She is also too restless to be a proper lady of Homeland society, though she tries her best for her brother's sake. She knows he loves her, but it isn't easy to be the penniless younger sister, dependent on him after their father dies.
Though they are of no relation, Sir Charles and Lady Amelia have taken her into their home. Kind as they are to the impoverished young woman, Harry is still restless. This province of Her Majesty's empire is stirring up strange feelings within her. The mountains on the far side of the desert call to her. Most other Homelanders are eager to finish their terms of service so they can leave this sandy place. But somehow, she loves it.
Though the Outlanders have been trying to annex the rest of Daria where the free Hillfolk live, when they face war with the Northerners, it is better to attempt an alliance. At least the Outlanders are still entirely human, and the Northerners will go after them as well. Corlath's kelar, a magic of the blood that few have anymore, told him to try. But when he and his Riders approach them with warnings and ask for aid, the Outlanders insist they will only provide assistance if he will subject himself and his people to their authority.
Corlath leaves the meeting held at Sir Charles's home in a rage. As the Hillfolk king, he is determined to maintain his people's identity. Before he can depart, his gaze lands on Harry by accident. Their eyes meet, and his kelar stirs. After their departure, Corlath's kelar keeps sending him visions of the girl with yellow hair. Though he doesn't understand the significance, he makes the decision to go back and steal her away. Somehow, she must be important for his people's survival.
Thus, Harry finds herself among the Hillfolk. She wonders why the king would want to kidnap a penniless orphan of no military importance. Only one reason comes to mind, but he treats her with dignity and makes no attempt to force himself on her. Rather, he acts as though she is an unexpected dilemma. Even the other Hillfolk within the traveling camp treat her as an honored guest rather than dishonored captive. One of the king's Riders befriends her and teaches her their language. Each word learned seems to awaken more, as though she had always known the language and was now recalling it.
How can a place she's never known feel so familiar? Why was she brought here? Why would they give her one of their remarkable horses and teach her their style of riding? Why teach her how to wield a sword? And why do they look to her as their token of hope? Harry must learn to bridge two worlds in order to save them both from the encroaching demon army of the North led by Thurra, a half-demonic creature who bears a strong kelar of his own.
I've often contemplated attempting to turn this Newbery Honor book into a screenplay. I know nothing of writing one, but I think this would make a fabulous movie. With the current rise in fantasy's popularity, it might even do well. Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" would make the perfect song for the closing credits. The lyrics fit well with the relationship between Harry and Corlath and some things that happen near the end of the book. It's not a perfect fit, since it wasn't written for the story, but it is amazingly close. I can't listen to the song without imagining Harry singing it to Corlath.
Because of The Blue Sword, I have gone on to read many of Robin McKinley's other wonderful fantasy novels. She has not one, but two variations on Beauty and the Beast and a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty. Check out her website for more about this wonderful author and her books. You might want to read her hilariously long answer to "What do you do with your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?" She starts off with a warning that not only does she do too much, but she loves to talk about what she does. Trade off some topics of interest, and this how I sound when I start babbling about my passions. (Filk anyone?)