“She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”
Robin McKinley is not one of those writers I ever read when I was younger, so I don’t have any in-born fondness for her. Which is perfectly fine because from the outset of this novel, I really enjoyed it. It’s a fantasy novel that begins in a far flung post on the edge of a kingdom. Our protagonist, Harry, has been sent to the post to live with her brother after her parents have died. She’s to be his ward, but also to live on the hospitality of the caretaker of the border city. When she’s there, she has to acclimate to the new climate, which is desert, compared to her native wetlands, and to the much more sparse population. In addition, the threat of danger, being at the border, looms as well. Early on, we understand that war is possible with the next kingdom over. But in between the two kingdoms lies the domain of the hill people, a semi-nomadic group that is rumored to share magical powers like the ability to control lightning. When their king plans a visit to the border to discuss an alliance or strategy, not only does Harry seem deeply fascinated, she also kind of falls under his spell. And then literally falls under his spell when she’s drugged and taken. She’s up for the ride it turns, and the reason why he takes her is only slowly revealed (but I think we understand it pretty readily). As she learns more about the people, their ways, and her new role, she relishes it.
The novel shares some real similarities with Dune, being the desert land, and like Dune has plenty of the Orientalism (however well-meaning) that that novel does. It also has a little of The Tartar Steppe to it as well, the existentialism of guarding a border post. And that I actually really liked.
Also weirdly, this audiobook was narrated by Diane Warren and that’s kind of wild. She’s very good, but has done almost no audiobooks really. I didn’t pick it because she’s been on people’s minds this week. It was just kind of random.