By Robin Mckinley
Publisher: Ace Books
Purchase this book here.
I think I first read this book when I was about 12. That was back when our local library hadn’t moved to making everyone have library cards and numbers yet, people just wrote their name on a card in the back of the book. Over the next couple years I filled that card by myself. For quite a while it was my very favorite book of all time.
Harry Crewe is a girl of about 20 who comes from a fictional land called simply Home. People from there are Homelanders. Except for that, it’s indistinguishable from Britain in 1900. They have guns and trains, but cavalry still rules the battlefield.
Harry’s father dies, leaving her in the care of her brother, who is in the military on The Frontier, in a land called Daria. Apparently the Homelanders had invaded Daria some 50 years before intending to colonize it. They got about half of it, and the other half stayed in the hands of the people who’d lived there, who called themselves Damarians.
The Damarians aren’t quite the nomads of the Gobi, nor the Arabs of the Middle East, but they live in a desert land and horses are terribly important to their society. The rulers of Damar have traditionally had a sort of magic they call kelar. It seems to have a mind of its own though, and while it gives them visions and great power in battle, they can’t just do whatever they want. Apparently, in the dim past it was more prevalent and more easily controlled.
Our story revolves around a time when The Northerners (who have more than a little demon blood in them) are starting to rise as they have many times before. This time they have a particularly powerful leader, and Corlath, King of Damar, finds he must ask the Outlanders (the Homelanders) for help. They decline, but his kelar makes him kidnap Harry, our heroine. He doesn’t even know why.
It turns out that Harry becomes quite adept at horsemanship, and swordplay, in only a matter of weeks. This gives the Damarians hope, since they’ve only ever been successful in battle when led by a woman carrying… The Blue Sword.
No-one really knows where it came from, but it’s called Gonturan. Legend says that if it’s carried by any man past his 13th birthday, it’ll turn in his hand and kill him.
McKinley does a wonderful job of making her characters real. None of them are inscrutable, all powerful fantasy characters, but real people, dealing with real problems, even the sage Luthe in the high mountains. She has the beginnings of a language put together, and develops flora and fauna in a way that flows nicely with the story.
I highly highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path in the fantasy world.