I first read this book – oh, many years ago now – and it stayed in my head all this time. About a month ago I remembered the author’s name and how much I loved the book, and I ordered a bunch of her stuff from the library, which I’ve been voraciously reading ever since.
McKinley is the absolute queen of exposition: no-one does it like she does. I often get fifty (or a hundred, or two hundred) pages in and suddenly realise three things: Most of the book has been exposition. . . almost nothing has happened. . . and I’m hooked.
If you want to know how good exposition is done, read a McKinley – any McKinley. But just don’t imitate the sheer amount of exposition she does: you’ll never get published. (And don’t read Pegasus– it is a genuinely poor book, and ends on a cliffhanger.)
The thing that haunted me most about The Blue Sword was the main character – there are so many reasons to care what happens to her, but most of all she is simply interesting. I loved reading (and re-reading) about the cultural clash between her and the Damarians – mostly because both sides are trying, with all the goodwill (and self-aware intelligence, which is as rare in literature as it is in real life) in the world to understand one another.
It is fantasy adventure – the good kind of fantasy, in which the focus is on what the characters actually work hard to do. The worlds are well-realised and excellently contrasting (given my love for Sabriel, this is clearly something I particularly enjoy). McKinley’s books are oddly gentle – although there are true, inhuman enemies, most of the experience of reading is about reaching an understanding and growing as a person. Which sounds boring – it isn’t. But it’s definitely a signature of McKinley’s work (that, and exposition!)
Free sample (opening paragraph):
She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here – was it only three months ago? – with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day. But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it – to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity.