Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword
Greenwillow 1982 (Ace Books 1987)

When Harry Crewe's father dies, she leaves her home to move to Sir Charles and Lady Amelia in Daria - a continent partly conquered and colonized by her fellow Homelanders. But her brother Richard, who serves in the army, isn't stationed in any nice and rich part of the country, but where the railway ends, close to the border. In the wilderness, with the desert the closest neighbour, most Homelanders feel a strong urge to go Home, but Harry immediately falls in love with the place. She'll come to see more of it than any Homelander before her have seen, because Corlath, the king of the Free Hillfolk, ridden by his magic, his kelar, kidnaps her and makes her one of his Riders in the everlasting war against the evil Northerners. Here Harry - called Harimad-sol by the Damarians - finds her true self, her Destiny. And the Blue Sword that comes with the territory.

"The Blue Sword" was Robin McKinley's first book about Damar, the magical kingdom of desert and hills. I really like this country, its culture and its magic. At a quick look one might assume the Damarians to be Arabs with a changed name, but McKinley doesn't make it all that easy. No, she creates a people with a history, culture and magic very much its own (the magic having a lot of similarities to the One Power in Jordan's Wheel of Time-series). I also like Home, modelled after England of the colonial era, and the inevitable clashes between different cultures following the Homelanders' conquest of Daria. To me, magical desert kingdoms and colonial railways seem like a perfect combination. Unfortunately, this book is quite a short one but McKinley has written a few more about the kingdom of Damar.

It feels like this book has been cut down to the size the publishers preferred at the time it was published. (This insinuation is probably not true, but it feels that way). The writing is often good, but sometimes it seems like a few paragraphs are missing, creating strange and abrupt changes. Or maybe it's just that my sense for what's a good flow in a novel has been seriously disturbed by writers like Robert Jordan. Anyway, this is a good story set in an interesting world. A good read.

Karl Henriksson

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1997.