Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Ace Trade
Date: December 2007
ISBN-13: 9780441012008

Plot Summary: After her father dies, Angharad “Harry” Crewe must move to the isolated military outpost in Istan to be near her brother who is stationed there.  The colonial settlement in a foreign country feels strangely like home for Harry, even though the desert setting is far removed from the forests where she grew up.  She is fascinated by Corlath, the native king of the Damar, who has come to the settlement to warn about invading tribes from the north.  That night, Corlath’s kelar, or psychic ability, instructs him to kidnap Harry, believing her to be necessary in order to defeat the impending invasion.  Harry adapts quickly to the Damarian culture, even training how to fight.  She is gifted with kelar and begins having visions of Lady Aerin, a legendary figure from Damarian lore – and Harry is even given Lady Aerin’s weapon, a blue sword.  Corlath instructs her on his plan for defending themselves, but Harry believes she knows a better strategy and follows her instincts, even if it means disobeying Corlath – whom she is falling in love with.

Critical Evaluation: The Blue Sword is a notable fantasy book because it is the first of the Damarian Chronicles, which are based on Robin McKinley’s imaginary land of Damar.  Harry is a great protagonist – she’s clever and resourceful, sensitive to other cultures, and not afraid to do typically male activities, like wield a sword and lead an army.  The plot is not unusual, in having a foreigner adapt to a native culture and become a hero – this same theme is seen in other books, and films like Avatar and Dances with Wolves – but McKinley’s treatment of this common plot is unique because of Harry’s unusual character.  The Blue Sword blends several genres – fantasy, adventure, legend, and even romance – and would have a wide appeal for readers.  And if you enjoy The Blue Sword, you can plan to read The Hero and the Crown next – the prequel that tells the story of Lady Aerin before she was a heroine.

Reader’s Annotation: Soon after Harry moves to the isolated colonial outpost of Istan in a desert country, she is kidnapped by the native king, Corlath, who believes she is integral for defending his tribe from invading northerners.

Author Information: Born on November 16, 1952, in Warren, Ohio, Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley was the only child of school teacher Jeanne Turrell McKinley and United States Naval officer William McKinley.  As a child, McKinley was envious of boys because “they were the ones who got to have adventures, while we got to – well, not have adventures.”  She started telling herself stories about girls who “did things and had adventures.”  Her later writing career was heavily influenced by these early narratives about heroic women.

These early tales evolved into several stories set in a fictional world she called Damar, and as she wrote about it, McKinley realized “there was more than one story to tell about Damar, that in fact it seemed to be a whole history, volumes and volumes of the stuff, and this terrified me” (“Robin McKinley,” 2009).  She set aside this project and began working on what became her first published book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley’s works are primarily fairy tale adaptations and tales of Damar.

In 1991, McKinley moved to Hampshire, England, to marry the author Peter Dickinson.  In addition to writing, McKinley is an avid reader and enjoys “nineteenth-century novels, murder mysteries (‘not too gore-spattered’), old-fashioned adventure, and British history.”  Her musical taste ranges from “grand opera to heavy metal rock,” and she loves spending time gardening.  She enjoys horseback riding, has taken up musical pursuits like bell-ringing and voice lessons, and has kept a blog since 2007.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Is Harry more closely connected to her own culture or the Damarian culture to which she adapts?
2) How does kelar work?  Can it be acquired?
3) McKinley wrote Harry because she wanted to write about a female character in an typically male role – does she achieve her goal?  Does gender really matter in a story like this?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: None

Challenge Defense Ideas: This book has no apparent challenge issues, but if a challenge comes up:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I did a report on Robin McKinley for this class and enjoyed The Blue Sword as an imaginative fantasy novel that I thought teens would enjoy.


Robin McKinley’s website and blog.

Robin McKinley on Facebook and Twitter.


May 15, 2010 - Posted by | Books |

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