Recently, I finished reading The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, by Tamora Pierce. Alanna of Trebond is now a Knight, but she spent many years disguised as a boy, on her way to knighthood. She must now find out what it means to be the only Lady Knight in the realm, and deal with those prejudiced against female warriors.
In this journey, she is taken in by a desert tribe, and forced to prove her mettle on their home turf. The local shaman thinks that she’s the devil’s spawn, several shunned teenagers with magical abilities look to her for guidance, and she has her good friend the Prince proposing marriage. What’s a girl to do? Continue arguing with the cat, and dealing with each of her difficulties, one at a time.
But the description of her initiation into desert life, living in tents, wearing clothes that protect you from the wind and sun, and having some magical showdowns with a crystal sword… this reminds me of a favorite book of mine.
Have you ever read The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley? No, that isn’t the one I’m recommending. But it IS a more well-known book, so I thought I’d mention it. This book won the Newbery Medal, back in… probably before I was born. A female heroine, an evil dragon, and magic, should be a winner, right? Now, I love Newbery books. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s an American award for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature, one for each year. They also give a Newbery Honor (runner-up) award to several authors. But if it has the Newbery Medal pasted on the cover, you know you’ve probably got a good book.
As I recall, my older brother likes The Hero and the Crown, but I’ve always hated it. Considering I love fantasy, especially if it involves dragons, this should be a no-brainer, right? I can’t figure out if I don’t like Aeryn, the heroine, or if the dragon is just too evil for my tastes, or what. This book turns my stomach, and I’ve tried to like it, really. So, this isn’t a recommendation to NOT read it. This is me telling you that I don’t like it, but maybe you will.
However, this should never be an excuse to not discover other books by Robin McKinley (I’ll have to tell you about her other books, in another post). The sort-of sequel to Hero and the Crown was one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword. I say sort-of sequel, because Aeryn lived long before Harry and Corlath, but Aeryn also carried the blue sword, Gonturan. There’s a connection between the heroines in each story. Oh, and The Blue Sword is a Newbery Honor book, in case you care.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read The Blue Sword, but I never get tired of it. It follows the story of Harry Crewe, a recently orphaned young lady, who has always felt out of place in the country she was raised in. After her father dies, her brother places her in the care of an older couple, in a desert area of the land. Despite the barrenness of the landscape, Harry starts to feel at home. And she starts to hear rumors of the hill people, and their king, Corlath.
Unwilling to surrender their lives and loyalties to Harry’s country, the hill people are rumored to have magic, and their king is supposed to be especially wild and powerful.
And as Harry’s guardians govern the area, one day, Corlath and his men come riding in. Harry is stunned by the king’s blazing yellow eyes, but doesn’t realize that she should’ve been harmed by seeing those magical eyes straight on. Instead, during the night, the king’s men steal her away, and she becomes a prisoner of sorts, not to be harmed by anyone, but no one understands why she’s there. Not even the king, because his magic forced him to do it.
But gradually, the hill people discover that perhaps Harry may be the hope for their nation… perhaps she even belongs to their people, after all.
Yes, I know, that was a roundabout way of getting to one of my favorite book. But what fun is there in the short version?