After I'd finished my interview on To the Best of Our Knowledge about Hild and had just pushed back my chair to go, the host Anne Strainchamps asked me if I'd like to recommend a book for a new feature they were doing. Sure, I said, and what followed was an utterly off-the-cuff three minutes conversation about Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword which is now live. [That's the streaming link. You can also download the file for your later listening pleasure.]
The Blue Sword was at the front of my mind when Anne asked me to recommend a book because I'd just started to read it aloud the night before and I'd been struck by its voice and rhythms and sure-footedness. In the on-air piece I talk about it being first person. It's not. It's in third although sometimes the narration slips into first without italics or quote marks. It can be mildly confusing, especially to read aloud cold, but after a couple of days I adapted and could give the non-dialogue narration the flavour of dialogue and reduce muddlement.
The Blue Sword might be one of McKinley's first novels but it shows all the trademarks of her later work: that absolute gift for making this imagined time and place feel as real as dirt, for showing people both ordinary and special, and for putting the reader right there in that particular time and place. I admit to flinching a little now at the implied class/caste issues, and the way McKinley doesn't quite escape the gender event horizon (though it's an admirable attempt), but for an early novel it's very fine. It's a serious story about finding one's place in the world and learning to belong, issues very much of interest to many of us, of any age.
Several people have asked me what I think of the recent kerfuffle about adults reading YA. I've talked about how I feel in general about YA before.
Meanwhile, The Blue Sword: Swords! Ponies! Magic! Go read it.