The Blue Sword is the tale of Harry, a young woman who's just moved to the edge of the desert after losing her parents. She's come to Damar, a desert land shared by the Homelanders, which are Harry's people, and the Hillfolk.
Her life isn't bad - those she's been taken in by are kind, her life is fairly easy, and her brother's presence keeps her socially in the circles. But there's something missing - something her soul wants but that she can't quite put her finger on. Until she gets kidnapped by the king of the Hillfolk and finds answers to questions she hadn't known she was asking.
Harry is an interesting character - she doesn't hate or disparage feminine things like so many of her sort would, and she also doesn't pine for the chance to use a sword and smack people around. She breaks a lot of molds for this kind of heroine, which I very much loved. She's smart and strong and selfless but not to the point of stupidity. Let's hear it for an intelligent lead character!
Though I have to admit, the thing about this book that struck me the most was that Harry has remarkably little reaction to being kidnapped. She's more worried about blending in with her captors than about getting back, or if her brother might be worried, or whatever. It's a little surprising, but it doesn't really hurt the tale. It's made clear that there's something within Harry that's always been calling out to this world, and in getting there, she finally finds where she belongs, so it really works. :)
McKinley's writing really makes this book sparkle. The descriptions are fantastic and breathe life not only into the hot, arid Homelander settlement (which reminded me of the setting from a Shirley Temple movie) and the open spaces and hills where the Hillfolk dwell in their tents to ride their horses. Also, I very much enjoyed the way she described Henry feeling the power of her magic. It was subtle and natural, but you could still feel the power of it.
Corlath, the male lead of this book, is likewise interesting, if not quite as well rounded as Harry. You can see he's a bit at loose ends when we first meet him - he sits uneasily atop the power structure of his people, aware war is coming and unsure how he's going to save his people from it. Kidnapping Harry is an act of desperation in a way, but it's one that saves him, gives him a focus, and helps him see a future beyond the coming war.
If you enjoy traditional high fantasy with compelling characters, great descriptions and a little bit of magic, give this one a go. It's a lovely book, and also a very quick read.