Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Middle Earth vs. Hogwarts vs. Damar

If I could have one ticket to any fictional world, I'd be torn between Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Narnia and now...a place called Damar, brought to life in The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley (and it's prequel, The Hero and the Crown).
I don't have a source (darn you, Tumblr) - please tell me if you know the source.

WARNING: this post is just a pure outpouring of love for a book. The kind of book that glows with its own warmth on a rainy day, like the one in this picture:
Again, I don't have a source (darn you, Pinterest) - please tell me if you know the source.
My first clue that I would love The Blue Sword came when the girl at the library who checked it out for me  said, "Oh, this is one of my favorite books. It's wonderful."

Wonderful is such an overused word we don't appreciate it anymore. But to be full of wonder is to think or speculate curiously, or to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; to marvel.

Among a million words, wonder ranks in the top ten. I think it outranks even beauty, because it has more dimensions than beauty. Really, I think maybe only love has more dimensions than wonder.

And so the highest compliment I can give a book is when it inspires love or wonder.

I started re-reading this book the moment I finished it. I'm reading it more slowly this time (I had to buy myself a copy, of course), savoring every moment, dwelling over paragraphs, soaking in the setting, smiling every moment.

This is the kind of book where if you are blue, having a bad day, you can pick it up and open to any random page, read for 10 minutes and it makes you - oh, the word isn't just happy, or excited, or inspired, or transported, - ah - it's all of those, which "wonder" marvelously encompasses.

On to specifics. 10 reasons (in no particular rank) why The Blue Sword fills me with wonder:

1) It's Victorian England/British Empire meets the Riders of Rohan (desert version). I could try to explain this, but it's much more fun to read it in the book.

2) It's got a magic with character. Kelar is a sort of living magic with its own will and purpose and apparent capriciousness.

3) The main protagonist is a girl named Harry Crewe.
All the buzz these days is about how readers want strong, resourceful women, fighters who might swoon over hot men but certainly don't have to be saved by them. Well, 30 years ago this book introduced a young woman who learns to wield a sword as well as any man, without bearing a grudge, a death-wish, revenge-wish, or even a chip on her shoulder. And her name is Harry Crewe. I  LOVE that name!
Gypsy, by Volker on 500px (Harry, minus the head-dress)

4) Corlath, the Hill-king You get to know him, but you never really KNOW him. I missed him in every scene he wasn't present. The man can start fires with his eyes, though he doesn't (except once) - it's not like a superpower; he is much too subtle.
Luke Goss in One Night With the King
Maybe not the best picture of him (but I couldn't resist the crown). Try this one:

5) Horses you must ride without reins. 
Windrose by *anndr on Deviant Art

6) A character that begs to be played by Patrick Stewart.
Patrick Stewart as Gurney Halleck in Dune
That would be Colonel Dedham (and Anthony Hopkins would be a great Mathin, by the way). 

7) Hunting cats. You know how you can train dogs and falcons to hunt for you? You can train cats, too, in Damar.

8) Wryness.  A great book will have many tones, but one overarching tone that raises the book head and shoulders above other mere novels, and this book is all about wryness. Isn't that a cool word, all by itself? Well, you just have to read it in action in this book.

9) Jumping points of view.
Not many authors can succeed in this; truly I think this is the second crowning achievement of a great author, getting the reader to move from one character's head to another's without blinking an eye (the first is, of course, stirring a reader so deeply they can't stop thinking about a book). I LOVE jumping around in the heads of different characters when it is skillfully done. It adds such richness to the story. You rarely see it even tried anymore.

10) Plot.
You really have to admire a plot that runs straight and true, beautifully simple, and yet avoids being predictable.You know what's going to happen, but it's HOW it's going to happen that keeps you turning pages breathlessly.

Well done, Blue Sword. Well done.  My world is brighter now that I have found this story.

My only question is, why did I find this in the middle grade shelves? Is it because the animals seem to talk? (even though they don't actually). Harry, the main character, is at least old enough to get married, though her age is never stated. You could call it either young adult OR adult fantasy. This is one of those universal books that appeals to all ages.

In case this post wasn't long enough (ha!), here's a link to my Goodreads review of the Blue Sword, which is three times the length. Yeah, I'm that crazy about this book.

What's the last book that had you casting characters for a movie while you were reading it?

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