I tend to read more science fiction than fantasy, but The Blue Sword is a good example of why I love fantasy too. There’s just a timelessness to a fantasy novel that science fiction can’t really lay claim to. Fiction about the future always has so much of the present embedded in it, but there’s nothing about The Blue Sword that lets you know it was written 30 years ago. The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to this book, but I think I’m glad I read them in internal chronological order rather than publication order.
In The Blue Sword a young woman named Harry who’s living the colonizer’s life in a land far from her home. She’s kidnapped and made a part of the Hillfolk who are trying to eke out an existence while being besieged by not-quite-human magical Northmen and her own people. She becomes the bearer of the titular sword and becomes a legend herself. There’s a sense of inevitability to the story (in a way that George RR Martin would destabilize at every turn if he were writing it) but it’s very beautifully done. It’s not Le Guin-level amazing, and I don’t think it’s as good as The Hero and the Crown, but Harry is a heroine that you can see being emulated in stuff like The Girl of Fire and Thorns and other more contemporary fantasy. I will gladly recommend it far and wide.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns is Rae Carson’s first novel and it was nominated for a 2011 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
It’s about a princess named Elisa who begins the story by getting married off to the widower king of the nearby desert kingdom. She is physically soft, loves pastries and thinks very little of her own worth, comparing herself unfavourably to her older sister, who is the much more royal daughter.
There are three parts to the book. The first part is about Elisa in her new kingdom. She gets kidnapped in the second and then returns in the third. While that was important to her character arc, man, I didn’t like the self-pitying version of the heroine from the opening. She does get herself together and becomes more kickass as the book goes on, but she’s got self-esteem issues throughout, which I find annoying. I mean, it’s good for the story that we see Elisa develop into someone who isn’t looking for other people to solve them for her. I just found her tiresome until she started to figure herself and her role out.
The magic in the book is mostly religious. Elisa has a “godstone” in her navel, which indicates that she’s been chosen by god to do some great task. She prays a lot and talks a lot about god, within the context of a Roman Catholic-esque church. There are schisms within the faith and there’s a lot of disbelief that the enemy kingdoms could possibly have anyone chosen by god. There is a communion-like sacrament in her faith that involves being pricked by a rose’s thorns, and sorcery is seen as a terrible thing to be avoided.
Culturally, the kingdoms are more Spanish influenced that Anglo-Saxon, which is kind of neat. That means there are lots of X-names, and the savages are called Perditos. There’s a Latin-esque classical language and other Plebeyan [sic] ones. It’s not South America, but it’s analogous.
Anyway, it was a pretty good book. The romance worked much better than these things do sometimes. My only real qualm (once Elisa starts figuring herself out) is the anti-climactic nature of the final confrontation, which happens with nameless sorcerors instead of someone you have a real stake in her defeating. Though it does do you the courtesy of giving you a real ending, not a cliff-hanger to the next book, so I can’t fault it too hard.