Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Review: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Title: The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)
Author: Robin McKinley
Rating: 3/5 Stars
I don’t get it. I just don’t. Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword has been acclaimed as one of the most remarkable fantasy novels of our age, but I am unable to see why. I suppose the best way I can describe The Blue Sword is to tell you that it is similar to a camp-fire story – entertaining, filled with action and heroes, a rather under-developed romance, and ultimately, a story that needs to be told again and again with more and more details filled in every time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that while I loved the world-building in this story, much of it felt like a mere outline which McKinley had forgotten to go back and develop in many parts. Thus, while I most certainly liked this novel, I by no means loved it and nor do I see exactly what is so remarkable about it.
I suppose it all really comes down to the writing style and execution of this story, not to mention the characters. Harry Crewe, our enigmatic heroine, is kidnapped from her foster home and taken to the Hills where the Damarians, mysterious hill-folk that can perform magic, reside. It is a dangerous time for her nation as the Northerners, an inhuman race, plan to attack and the hill-people of Damar whose numbers have steadily dwindled for years, are in grave danger. Thus, their king, Corlath, looks to the Outlanders for aid and, when receiving none, feels a strange pull towards Harry, who seems to have an affinity for the magic of the Hills as well. It is then that Harry realizes her true destiny as the savior of these people and along with the legendary Blue Sword, sets out to meet her fate.
The Blue Sword sounds interesting enough and I suppose it is, but it took awhile to get into. I felt as if the writing style was deliberately distant and slow-moving and it took awhile to become accustomed to it. In fact, I’m still not sure if I quite am. McKinley tends to describe many aspects of Damarian life such as customs of the hill-folk, the beautiful horses they ride, and even the setting of her lands, but she fails to make the reader connect with anything much beyond that. Not only does her writing wander a bit, she also shifts between using the Damarian and Outlander names for certain things which becomes cumbersome and irritating after awhile. Yet, I found the biggest downfall to be in the characters themselves.
While I loved the strong themes of woman empowerment in this story, I never felt a connection with Harry in the least. Not only is she vastly different from other characters, she is incredibly mature – so mature that she does not question the reasons for her kidnapping as she begins to innately understand them, but nor does she question any of the other actions in this story. Furthermore, while we are told about Harry’s conflicting emotions concerning the Damarians and the Outlander heritage she has grown up with, it is hard to sympathize or feel for her due to the narration. Thus, I was quite annoyed with Harry for her utter placidness and inability to take action until the last part of the novel. Yet, while I enjoyed the battle scenes in the end, I never felt as if I could pinpoint or understand Harry’s growth – it was all very sudden and hard to truly see. Furthermore, the friendships she made were never elaborated on and became strong with a simple smile, which leads the reader to believe that there are missing pages from their copy of the book. So really, Harry was not the only under-developed character in this tale.
That being said, I still did like reading The Blue Sword. It had many technical flaws in its writing and narration and while I could not connect with the characters and don’t feel as if I know Corlath, the enigmatic Damarian king who later becomes Harry’s husband, I think the setting and political intrigue of this novel is remarkable. Yet, I firmly believe that in the hands of a different author, The Blue Sword could have been the fantastic tale other readers gush over. For all my enjoyment of this story, I don’t think I will be reading much more of Robin McKinley in the future, not matter how wonderful her storytelling is proclaimed.