Harry Crewe must adapt to the very different climate of the desert. She and the other Homelanders are trying to live beside the Hillfolk and Northerners without really having to deal with them. Harry is an orphan taken in by Sir Charles and Lady Amelia who have no children and are friends with her brother. Sir Charles does not understand the Hillfolk and their ways and relies on Colonel Jack Dedham for help and when Corlath, King of Damar or most of it, comes asking for help against the demon Northerners, both sides misunderstand. Corlath, who has the Gift, storms out in anger stares hard at Harry and can't forget her. His gift drives him to kidnap her and train her to be the next Aerin, a legendary figure who fought dragons and carried a blue sword. Corlath sees Harry's gift and wants to use it to stop the Northerners. Harry gradually learns why she has been kidnapped and becomes friends with Mathin, one of the King's Riders, her horse Sungold and a hunting cat Narknon who give her the confidence to take up the blue sword. Harry's Gift leads her to believe she can stop the Northerners and their king from taking over Damar and the Homeland, but at what cost?
Robin McKinley's well-crafted descriptions bring to life Damar and its people. I had a bit of a problem with the kidnapping, but I did like how Harry is treated as a strong female and that admiration is usually the tone that even the men adopted toward her. She doesn't complete just trust the Hillfolk, but she does feel drawn to the land and then wants to help the people. I love also the description of the animals and can see why everyone would want a Hill horse and their own hunting cat. I read The Hero and the Crown a long time ago, but don't remember much about it, but I think that it is fine to read either The Blue Sword or the Hero and the Crown first, even though this one was written first, but the other is first in the chronology. I love that Harry is a strong female lead and I know the book gets complaints because the romance is not really developed, but to me it seems realistic and that magic can draw the characters together fits the story. I love McKinley's books and this is a 5 cups of cocoa read for me! It was a well deserved Newbery Honor. I am rereading The Hero and the Crown now and will compare the two a bit more when I finish it.