“The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble thinking I read it back in high school. The book I recalled reading had a girl with flaming red hair, wielding a sword, and fighting a dragon that burnt off all her hair, which was never again as lustrous as it once was. After reading The Blue Sword, I realized that the book I was thinking of was The Hero and the Crown. As I mentioned in my reflection on Spindle’s End, The Hero and the Crown was the first book I read by Robin McKinley. Like Ursula Le Guin and J.K. Rowling, McKinley’s characters tend to stay with me for years. The details of the story may cloud over with memories but the characters never fade away.

At first, I did not expect any aspect of The Blue Sword to stand out to me. When I discovered it was not the book I thought it to be, I got upset and felt gypped and threw the book back in my bookcase. I didn’t bother to give it a chance. And how rude of me to do so, especially to Robin McKinley! A few months later, I saw The Blue Sword again while I was organizing my bookcase and decided to read it

A quick summary: (Here be spoilers!)

The Blue Sword is about a girl named Harry Crewe who moves to Ihistan, a military outpost in Daria, a land claimed by Homelanders, to live closer to her brother after their father died. She finds herself bored by the area but fascinated by its native inhabitants, the Damarians, or the Hillfolk, as they are referred to by the Homelanders. (The Hillfolk call the Homelanders Outlanders.) The Homelanders invaded and colonized Damar, a fabled land that is said to contain magic, to access the mines in its hills. Leaving the desert to the invading Homelanders, the Damarians retreated to the mountains that surround the desert. While some Damarians mingle with the Homelanders, others refuse to associate with them. Both, though, refuse to share much of their culture with the Homelanders, whom they see as obnoxious. The Homelanders instead speculate about what they do not know of the Damarians, who they think to be peculiar and secretive.

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“The Farthest Shore” by Ursula Le Guin

At first I didn't like this cover but then I saw it at a certain angle and the eye seemed to glow...SO COOL!!!
At first I didn’t like this cover but then I saw it at a certain angle and the eye seemed to glow…SO COOL!!!

Quick summary:

In this story, we are introduced to Arren, prince of Enlad, an island in the north of the Earthsea archipelago. Something is causing wizards, sorcerers, and others with magical propensities to lose their abilities. Arren is sent to Roke, the island where wizards are trained, to find out why. Ged Sparrowhawk, who is now Archmage on Roke, decides to go on a quest to solve this problem with Arren in tow. They visit various islands in the South and West Reaches of Earthsea where they try to figure out what is stealing the magic in Earthsea. Finally, with the aid of a dragon, Ged gets an idea of what the cause might be and travels to The Dragon’s Run and Selidor islands to find out. On Selidor, Ged and Arren travel to the land of the dead to resolve the loss of magic. The adventure is a success, Ged returns magicless and retires to his homeland, Gont, and Arren is crowned king of Earthsea.

My reaction:

This is the third book in the Earthsea series and I didn’t like it much. The first book was great, filled with Ged’s adventures as he runs from and then chases his shadow. The second book was not exciting but wasn’t a bore either because Tenar escapes and frees herself. This book too wasn’t a bore but it’s adventure was subdued. For most of the book, the reader is either in Arren’s thoughts or kicking it from a distance with the narrator, simply analyzing the actions of characters and their thought processes.

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“The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula Le Guin

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Though I enjoyed the first book of the Earthsea Cycle, A Wizard of Earthsea, I did not enjoy the second as much.

Quick summary:

In The Tombs of Atuan, we are introduced to Tenar, the priestess of the Nameless Ones, gods without names. She was taken from her family at the age of six to become the new priestess since the old one had died. Brought up in a dry landscape void of any other humans except the women who serve the temples of the gods and the soldiers who guard the outskirts, Tenar knows nothing of the outside world except wisps of memory from her childhood. Her hopes and dreams are limited to the walls of the temple. It’s not until Ged Sparrowhawk appears in the Tombs, searching for the other half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, that she becomes curious and begin to defy the rules given to her to follow.

My reaction:

The Tombs of Atuan is a good story but while reading, I kept wondering what would happen in the next book. It’s probably because there’s not much action in this installment that I found it hard to commit my attention to it, however, it was not a boring read. I quite like the story of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, which besides Ged’s appearance is the only thing that connects this installment to book one.

Still, I like that the protagonist is female and from the Kargish islands, a place that does not hold magic in high regard. This perspective gives us a different view on the world and structure of Earthsea. Also, I loved that in order for Tenar to escape her servitude, she must choose to be free. Though Ged can take Tenar away from the Tombs, in order to truly escape the powers of the Nameless Ones, she must choose to go.

My appreciation for the story grew when I read the afterword (included in the September 11, 2012 edition). In it, Le Guin discusses her reasons for writing the story and why she chose to write from Tenar’s point-of-view. It’s amazing the thoughts given to the craft of this story.

The Farthest Shore (book 3) ->

<- A Wizard of Earthsea (book 1)

Quotes from the book:

“…it is no use trying to open a door until you know how the door is opened.”

“She wept in pain because she was free…Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake…It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one.”