This is my first Robin McKinley book, though I do have a couple others in my possession that need to be read.
I wasn't really thrilled with this one though. Up until about 50% I was liking it quite a bit, though I couldn't tell you why, because nothing at all had happened. But it didn't take long (or, rather, it took too long) and I started to feel like the story would never actually start, and now that I've finished, all I can say is that it didn't really do anything for me.
It seemed that everything was just a little too easy, a little too square-peg/square-hole... it fit together just too perfectly. There's never a feeling of true conflict or danger that Harry will fail, because she fails at nothing... at least nothing that she does after joining the Hillfolk. Everything that she does, she's the best at. Instantly - or close enough to seem like it.
Learn a new language from the ground up? Ain't no thang! She's fluently translating in no time.
Learn to ride a crazy big, amazingly bred, best-of-the-best, super-smart, intimidating war-horse? She's riding circles around her teacher in weeks.
Learn to sword-fight after never having held anything bigger than a butter-knife in her life? She's winning competitions in less than 2 months.
Defect from the main army to defend an underrated weak flank point and command battles? Got it in one... day.
Need to drop a mountain range on your enemy? 30 minutes. 15 if you exclude travel time to climb to the top of said mountains.
I mean really? I know that she's got this whole "kelar" magical insight/guiding force... thing. But can't she be bad at something? ANYTHING? The fantasy itself was... typical. Nothing special, nothing really compelling or impressive, except that the main character is a girl who has an unknown ability that, unsurprisingly, comes into play all the time to benefit her at just the right times, without her having to do anything at all. Sure, she has to swing the sword and ride the horse, but the magic in her makes her the best at it almost without even trying, and then all the really big stuff just happens by "instinct". There's nothing at all special or impressive about Harry aside from an accident of birth, but this book apparently thinks she's the greatest thing since sliced bread.
And the "Northerners"? The mysterious danger that is such a threat that they are mentioned a handful of times in passing? Aside from them being "different", it's not until they are actually IN BATTLE that there's any kind of information given about why they are so dangerous or scary. And again, most of that is that they are just "different"... oh, and their leader is bloodthirsty and maybe part demon and their horses are double-jointed?
KILL THEM WITH FIRE.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I found this book to be boringly predictable in the worst way. The story progressed through trope check-points like it was going out of style.
Outlander finds her true "home" with the "enemy"? Check.
She becomes the best of the best of the bestest at everything? Check.
She inspires all the peoples and the beasties to love and follow her? Check.
Saves all the things? Check.
She gets the guy/King? Check.
Bridges the gap between THEM and US? Check.
I also felt like the writing style itself was... odd. Sentence structures felt awkward and out of order, leading to this stilted kind of narration/dialogue that felt too formal and too informal at the same time. Maybe that's due to the fact that this book is 25 years old... it's just dated, and feels like it.
I was hoping to like this book, but it was just disappointing in the end. I hope McKinley's other books are better.