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The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword
Robin McKinley
Ace Trade (Paperback)
Date: December 4, 2007
Originally published: 1982
Newberry Honor (1983)
320 pages
ISBN-10: 0441012000
ISBN-13: 978-0441012008
Lexile : 1030L

Book Overview:

The Blue Sword is the story of Harry, a girl who discovers her heritage when she leaves behind the only home she’s ever known to live near her brother on the desert frontier in the home of strangers.  She finds purpose for her life, an entirely new life, after she is abducted from her room in the middle of the night.  Harry has always felt that she didn’t quite fit in with her surroundings, but when she begins her life in the wilds of Damar, she is truly at home. Harry is a strong female lead with a core of steel who attempts to live with honor and bravery.

This title was a Newberry Honor book in 1983.  There are many editions of this book as of this writing, and this title certainly deserves its longevity.  Robin McKinley’s world-building is perfectly balanced, with just enough detail to fire the reader’s imagination but not so much that it gets in the way of the story.  Her characters are well-drawn, believable, and diverse.  The reader will become attached to several of the supporting cast and wish to know them even better.   RECOMMENDED

Positive Content:

  • Harry is polite and dignified even when she has cause to act otherwise.  She keeps her head in moments of crisis and people look to her for leadership.
  • Harry’s parents are dead by the time the story begins, but her memories of them are full of love and respect for a mother and father who did their best.
  • Harry loves her brother, but when push comes to shove, she makes hard choices in spite of his probable disfavor.
  • The Blue Sword is a classic tale of good versus evil.  There is a clear theme of overcoming prejudice and fear between different peoples in order to save their world.
  • Corlath’s intentions toward Harry are honorable, and their love for one another grows gradually.  Parents will approve of the idea of friendship before romance.

Content to Consider (Spoilers):

  • The level of violence is misleading because this is a story about war and the preparations for defense against an invasion.
  • The story truly gets underway when Harry is abducted during the darkest hours of the night by Corlath.  Harry is never in danger because Corlath’s motives are altruistic.
  • Eventually, Harry is given the task of learning to carry a sword and to fight.  Many, daily duels and fighting exercises follow with her tutor. War looms in the future, and Harry has good reason to try to excel at war craft.
  • At the end of her training, Harry must prove herself worthy to carry a sword into battle.  This involves several tests of her expertise and then a series of bouts with other contenders.  Nobody is seriously harmed since the goal of the tests is to create troops for the war which is coming to their doorsteps.
  • During an initiation ritual, Harry and Corlath make a cut in their palms just deep enough to draw blood.
  • Harry meets the commander of the enemy army in single combat; their battle is fierce but inconclusive.  They disengage for a time, but Harry has endured an injury that will mean certain defeat when they clash again.
  • Harry, with the help of the spirit of Lady Aerin, calls down a mountain of rock onto the enemy army.  Even this event is told without gory detail.
  • Guns are in use by the Homelander army; however, nobody is shot during the course of the story.
  • Basic weaponry is used in the battle scenes: spears, bows, axes, and swords.
Crude, Vulgar, or Profane Language: INFREQUENT
  • D— is used less than ten times in this book.
  • God’s name is used several times.
  • There is not crude language or vulgarity.
  • Derogatory names are absent as well, even as they might pertain to the enemy.
Sexual Content: MILD
  • Corlath’s father was a noted womanizer, and King Corlath is aware that he has several half-siblings living amongst his people.
  • Mention is made of Corlath’s love life in the past; however, he has little interest in that sort of adventure presently because he is concerned with matters of state.
  • Because of the way Corlath takes Harry from her room in the night, she might be considered to be dishonored even though Corlath has nothing romantic in mind at that time.
  • The interaction between Corlath and Harry includes kisses and embraces. By the end of the book, we learn that they have several children together as husband and wife.
Drug/Alcohol:  RARE
  • Wine is consumed at meals.
  • Harry admits that she learned to smoke cigars in self defense against her father’s friends who would sit for hours, smoking cigars and swapping stories.
  • Harry, the king, and the king’s Riders drink the Water of Seeing; under its influence, she and a few others experience visions.
  • Herbs are used for cooking and for medicinal purposes.
  • One herb, a stimulant, is used to keep Harry alert during her training period.
Negative Content:
  • Corlath abducts Harry, scaring her badly since she doesn’t know what he intends to do.  We learn soon enough that he has no sinister motives.
Spiritual Content:
  • God’s name is used; however, there is no other evidence of belief in Him.
  • A plurality of gods is mentioned a few times in offhand remarks.
  • Corlath mentions the priesthood of his people.  Members of the priesthood are identified at the age of ten when they drink the Water of Seeing.
  • Two of the riders mention the Just and Glorious; perhaps, this is their version of God.
  • The Old Tongue is also called the Language of the Gods.
  • The spirit of Lady Aerin shows herself to Harry in the midst of a fire.
  • Lady Aerin’s knowledge and arguably, her spirit, reside in Harry to aid her in saving her adopted people.
  • The Water of Seeing has the spiritual property of enabling people to see prophetic visions.
  • Luthe is a seemingly ageless prophet who lives near the Lake of Dreams.  King Corlath goes to see him prior to engaging the enemy.
  • Kelar is a magic that is hereditary to the people of Damar, but its power seems to be fading with each generation.  Both Corlath and Harry have an unusually large amount of kelar.

My Personal Opinions:

I think The Blue Sword, though an older title, is an example of YA literature at its finest.  It’s engaging and imaginative and doesn’t show its age, as so many of today’s current novels will do very shortly.  Here we are nearly thirty years later, and the story still seems new.  I believe that the story appropriate for any age with the corresponding reading Lexile. Even though the main character is female, it is NOT a “girly” book; boys will find it equally enjoyable – men and women, too.

As mentioned above, the theme of overcoming prejudice is addressed.  Teachers might use the story to draw parallels with current events in the real world.

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About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.


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