That’s the only way I can describe my feelings on this book in one word.
In a few words I would say: Beautiful world building, but the writing let it down.
The Blue Sword has a classic fantasy plot. At the death of her father, a young woman named Harry is sent to join her brother at an obscure desert outpost in the farthest reaches of the Homeland. There she lives with a well to do important family, makes some friends and hears the legends of the people that inhabit the nearby Hills which was once the ancient land of Damar. However war is brewing in the North and the Homelanders need the cooperation of the mysterious Hill tribes: a group of ancient people who have magic called the Gift. As negotiations with the Hill King, Corlath break down, Harry catches Corlath’s eye. Or rather she catches his Gift, and his Gift drives him to kidnap her and train her in the Hill people’s ways. Harry learns to speak, ride, live, and fight, like a warrior of Damar, before becoming a King’s Rider, and obtaining the blue sword of the legendary Aerin, then riding into battle to help defeat Damar’s enemies.
For me, to be very blunt, great world, boring writing.
*winces* I know. Harsh. But true.
Let's start off on the positive. The delicious, tasty world building. the world building was spectacular. Mckinley created a place I wanted to visit again and again, with all the small details of a culture—from clothing, to customary forms of politeness—that allow a world to come alive, and she did it without making the read boring. The details were effortlessly woven in with Harry’s training which, in my opinion, was the most interesting part of the book. As Harry learned about the culture, so did the reader. I wish I could give Damar and its Hill people a giant hug because it reminded me of all the things I love about fantasy. Bravo and an A+ for world building.
The characters were...good. Corlath was very strong, especially as we could see him and his feelings change over time. He was fascinating and engaging and I wanted to read about him and hear his point of view. Granted he was also a Hill person and that was the strength of the novel so...
Anyways, once we get away from Damar, things get to be kinda...Meh. Like the heroine: Harry. Harry was…a heroine. She was a strong character, but I really don’t feel like she had a strong personality and there are many many heroines like her. She fades, I think, in contrast to other characters. At the time the book was written, I’m sure she stuck out more but now I could lump her in with a whole host of female characters that have come along since its publication. I wasn’t disappointed in her, but I wasn’t impressed either. I felt, “meh!” about her.
Of course there was a romance between Harry and Corlath and that was a sort of Meh thing as well. At least, I have to say, it was done properly. The romance certainly did not take center stage and, although the reader could see it coming, McKinley progressed it logically as a natural result of events that take place within the book. As a romance should be. It didn’t feel forced. I didn’t feel deeply involved in it, however, and I think that comes down to my feelings about the characters involved. I have to admit, there were definitely some cute points to it, but that came as a result of Corlath and because I cared about Corlath, those parts of the romance really struck me. Most of it, however, I just sorta...accepted. I didn't roll my eyes at it (which is an achievement), but it didn't do anything for me. If I was more emotionally invested in Harry, or if Harry were stronger, I really think I would have enjoyed the romance aspect to this novel.
Okay, and now, I have to talk about the let down: the writing and writing style. I didn’t find the writing itself to be engaging. It didn’t suck me in and there were times when I just skimmed paragraphs. And I’m not a skimmer. Other times, although I liked the plot and characters, I just got bored reading and had to put it down and go do something else. Then I would forget I was actually reading it. Not a good thing at all. I remember when I read The Name of the Wind, I almost went without dinner because I didn’t want to stop reading. It was kind of the opposite with this book.
Additionally, the author had the annoying and frustrating habit of switching POV in the middle of a paragraph without any warning and no reason. Now, you can do this if it adds to the reading experience. In this instance, however, it just made things confusing and I would have to go back and reread a paragraph just to figure out who was talking. Sometimes, the author would introduce something foreign and wouldn’t explain it until pages later where it seemed out of place. And still other times, I felt as if the author just assumed you knew something that hadn’t been explained, which made things even more frustrating.
As a result of the writing I had to do a lot of rereading, which of course knocked me out of the story and ruined my experience.
What’s frustrating about The Blue Sword is that there are so many good points. I am so in love with the world and the people I would reread it just to read about the hill people again. I could care less about Harry and her sword. The Hill people carry this and they have a timelessness and a quality to them, and a sort of ‘this is a good fantasy’ feel. I would recommend reading this book ONLY for the sake of being introduced to Damar and its people.