Robin McKinley will likely make an appearance here again. Her novels have not only influenced me, but also have provided some ideas—debatably to the point of plagiarism—to Disney Animation Studios.
For now, I’m reviewing a pair of her books that have not yet been used by Disney: the Damar novels, The Hero and The Crown and The Blue Sword. The Hero and the Crown occurs a long, long time chronologically before The Blue Sword, but the books are one of those rare sets that does not need to be read in any order.
I have read these books over and over again, to the point where the cover of my favorite (The Blue Sword) has fallen off. I love them so much.
McKinley writes stories that are about fairytales and girl power, though the latter is sensible, realistic, and not obnoxious. Her independent girls are characters, not cutouts, who make mistakes and know terrible fear. Her world-building is interesting and fun.
These books also have a love affair with horses, grand fine horses, and as properly horse-mad teen many years ago, this was a major appeal.
This particular set of books is not based on an old fairytale, though a lot of her work is. Both books are set in the fantasy nation of Damar. Magic is subtle and ancient. The culture is complex, especially in The Blue Sword. There is a powerful strangeness at work in the background. Not all mysteries are clarified, but there is a happy ending to both tales—but not without sacrifice.
There is something painting-like to these novels. Their stories seem like something you’d see depicted on the halls of Rivendell. Here’s an idea of what I’m talking about:
As they rode into the morning the wind sang in her ear, but it carried strange sounds within it, and she smelled strange odors. It was Talat’s restlessness, at last, that told her what was happening; for these were the sounds and smells of battle.
…it was as though dusk had fallen on them as soon as they stood still. Tsornin’s nostrils were wide and red as he turned his head. She looked where he was looking. A big dark horse stood as if waiting for them. Harry blinked and stared; the other horse tossed its head. Was he bay or black? There seemed to be something wrong with her eyes; she raised one arm and rubbed them against her grimy sleeve, but the horse and rider still shimmered in her sight, a shimmer of darkness instead of light.
Of course, that does not mean humor and humanity is absent:
You are attempting to be logical, I suspect, and logic has little to do with government, and nothing at all to do with military administration.
“Second wind,” said Tor, standing up and stretching slowly till his spine cracked.
“Fourth or fifth wind”, said Aerin grimly…