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Literature / The Blue Sword

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The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is a fantasy novel that follows Angharad "Harry" Crewe as she adjusts first to life in the Homelander colony of Daria — called Damar by its native inhabitants — and then to being kidnapped by the Damarian king, Corlath.

There is also a prequel, The Hero and the Crown, which tells the story of Lady Aerin, Dragon-killer, one of Damar's greatest and most legendary heroes, who is mentioned with some frequency in The Blue Sword. There is also a midquel short story, "A Pool In The Desert," which has less swords and horses than the other two.

McKinley has said she wrote the book after reading (and being completely horrified by) The Sheik. She's referred to it as 'the anti-Sheik'.

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    Tropes in The Blue Sword 
  • Abduction Is Love: Subverted. The Riders suspect with dismay that this is Corlath's intention when he kidnaps Harry, but he makes it very clear that's not the case. He only keeps her around because of a premonition too strong to ignore, and later because of her magic and sword skills. They do fall in love, but not until she's fairly adjusted to her new home and on more or less equal terms with him.
  • Action Girl: Senay and eventually Harry.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Harry calls her brother Richard "Dickie", which doubles as Have a Gay Old Time. Jack calls Harry "Captain". The Hillfolk call her "Harimad" or "Hari" in their best approximation of Angharad/Harry. And after they get engaged, Corlath calls her "my heart".
  • Authority Equals Asskicking
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Damarian style of riding involves a padded saddle, no reins, and no stirrups.
  • Babies Ever After: Tor Mathin and Aerin Amelia.
  • Badass Normal: Jack Deadham, Mathin, and the rest of the King's Riders.
  • Big Bad: Thurra.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Richard, much to Harry's annoyance.
    "He takes the man's responsibility to his frail female relations very seriously, does Dickie. Drat him."
  • Colonel Badass: Jack Deadham.
  • Complete Immortality: Luthe, although it may be The Ageless, instead.
  • Completely Unnecessary Translator: Corlath uses one with the Homelanders.
  • Cool Horse: Tsornin, Isfahel, all Hill horses...
    • Corlath recounts a story of Tsornin's ancestor, who was able to bring her master home after he'd been tortured and gone partly insane. That's right, even the horses get a Heroic Lineage.
  • Easing into the Adventure: The story begins with Harry's efforts at adjusting to life in Homelander-occupied Daria; after she's kidnapped by Corlath, she goes through another adjustment and training period.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Luthe, to a certain extent
  • Embarrassing First Name: Angharad "Harry" Crewe.
  • Empathic Weapon: Gonturan.
  • Enemy Mine: Corlath sees an alliance with the Homelanders as this; the lesser of two evils compared to the Northerners.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: "Sola" for for men and "sol" for women.
  • Fantastic Racism: Homelanders vs. Hillfolk, in both directions. And both of them hate the Northerners.
  • The Federation: The Homelanders.
  • Foreshadowing: It's mentioned early on that Harry had some sort of "questionable" great-grandmother on her mother's side of the family that may have "diluted" her blue blood. It turns out that the great-grandmother in question was a Damarian noblewoman, making Harry part-Damarian and giving her the kelar magic.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Corlath, Thurra and Harry.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Filanon.
  • Historical Fantasy: The Homelander Empire's expansion into Daria/Damar bears some resemblance to the British Empire's expansion into India.
  • The Horde: The Northerners.
  • Horseback Heroism: A big part of Damarian culture.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Harry joins her brother in Daria/Damar because there's nowhere for her to go in their Homeland: her parents are dead, their home and property sold off, and as a "penniless blueblood of no particular beauty" she is not regarded as prime marriage material.
  • In the Blood: The kelar (magic) of the Hillfolk runs strongest in the royal line and their close relatives. Harry's maternal great-grandmother was a Hill noblewoman "of some rank"; and is the source of her Gift.
  • Love Epiphany: Harry and Corlath both have theirs after she deserts to warn Istan. Harry realizes she's afraid to return and be hated or friendzoned, while Corlath realizes he screwed up and may never see her again.
  • Magic Versus Science: The magic of the Northerners and the Damarians interferes with Homelander technology like guns.
  • Magic Warrior: Corlath, Thurra, and Harry.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Mathin, although he survives.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted. Harry is regarded as The Chosen One, but she learns the Hillfolk's ways rather than teaching them her own. Plus she actually has Hillfolk blood.
  • Nave Newcomer: Harry, after she's kidnapped.
  • Named Weapons: All of the Damarians name their swords.
  • Never Was This Universe: The Homelander Empire is a fairly obvious Expy of the old British Empire, colonial possessions and all, but what we learn of the world makes it clear that it's not really an Alternate History.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Sir Charles, sympathetically.
  • Old Master: Mathin.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Gonturan, the titular Blue Sword, which will only work for women of any age and men younger than 20.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome:
    • Harry at first has this reaction about Tor the Just, husband to Lady Aerin, Dragon-killer:
      "It must be very dreary, being Just, when your wife is out killing dragons."
    • However, she later decides he can't have been all that boring if he was also a noted general, able to hold off the Northern army for 9 consecutive days of battle.
  • Pride: Corlath adamantly insists they should ignore the northwest pass to let the Northerners destroy Istan, without even warning the town first. This is because in his view, he gave them fair warning and they threw it in his face, and he's too stubborn and proud to let that slight pass. He admits he was in the wrong when Harry deserts to warn Istan and returns with an army, though.
  • Rain of Arrows: In the climactic battle against Thurra's Army.
  • Scars are Forever: The King's Riders all have ritually scarred hands, with the aid of a special salve.
  • Shout-Out: Corlath telling Harry if she's so worried about sneak attacks, she might as well keep an eye out for eagles carrying rocks.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Using the inborn magical talent called kelar turns the user's eyes temporarily bright gold.
  • Sword Fight: Another standpoint of Damarian culture, especially since magic is very good at messing with guns.
  • Time Abyss: Luthe is at least 2000 years old by the time of The Hero and the Crown, and has not changed a bit however many hundreds of years later it is when we meet him in The Blue Sword.
  • Tomboyish Name: Harry, whose real name Angharad isn't revealed until a good ways into the story.
  • Uncoffee: Malak.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: Lampshaded by Luthe, who points out that he's given Harry a much straighter answer than she has any reason to expect from any ancient oracle on a mountain.
  • You ALL Share My Story: Senay, Terim, the Homelanders and the Filanon all get credit for stopping the Northerners. Aerin explains that she arranged this for Harry, because in her own lifetime, she found that the people at home don't like being left out of the adventure.

    Tropes in "A Pool in the Desert" 

Alternative Title(s): A Pool In The Desert