In some ways, I believe The Blue Sword
makes a better read than its companion novel, The Hero and the Crown
. You get the sense that McKinley’s drawing from more sources in her creation of this world than in the fantasy dragon world described in the later published prequel. The story of The Blue Sword
reads like a combination of those adventure books describing 19th Century British colonization practices in the East and an inversion the story of Prince Cor in The Horse and His Boy.
One thing I found interesting about the contrast between the two books in the series is sense of progression, or I should say regression, of the kingdom of Damar. The final pages of The Hero and the Crown
describe a kingdom of vast power and influence, marking the beginning of a Golden Age of rule. In contrast, The Blue Sword
depicts a kingdom that has gradually wasted away over 500 years; the once vast property of land, now little more than a stone city surrounded by hill country—a kingdom of waning influence when compared to the other foreign powerhouses currently surrounding its small territory.
The protagonist, Harry Crewe, becomes a figurative bridge attempting to bring together two separate worlds with two different cultures (the Homelanders, her native land and the Damarians), by waging a war against their common enemy, the Northerners. By itself, the story itself is quite good. I rather enjoyed the descriptions of Harry’s apprenticeship, learning to become one of King Corlath’s Riders in the Laprun trials. Also thought that Corlath and Harry made a good contrasting pair. Each is steadfast in their contrary beliefs; and it was fun to witness the progression of their ideals, enabling them to eventually meet on common ground.
However, I think the series suffers when you read the books together (prequel first), as the inconsistencies in the story tend to become more readily apparent. This was most noticeable in Aerin’s relationship with Luthe, which McKinley builds up in her later novel. When the relationship is compared to what's described in The Blue Sword
, you realize that Aerin's story hasn't yet ended... it's left feeling incomplete.
Considering that this is an early work of McKinley's, The Blue Sword
does make a good read, though I wouldn't necessarily suggest to read the books the same order in which I read them.