Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5
The 1985 Newbery Medal Winner, The Hero and the Crown, is a high fantasy tale by Robin McKinley. It tells the story, from her adolescence, of Aerin, first sol (princess) of the kingdom of Damar. Aerin never fit in at court. She was the only one with wild orange hair, she lacked the family Gift (magic), and unfeminine pursuits like swordplay and horse-back riding interested her more than courtly games. Aerin’s cousins mercilessly teased her and the court, by virtue of her birth to a “witchwoman”, kept her at arms length.
However, things began to turn around when she tamed her father’s lamed warhorse, Talat, who became her most loyal companion. Together with the sword-fighting lessons from her cousin Tor and her own work on a fireproofing balm, Aerin gained the tools she needed to slay the small dragons which periodically plague the kingdom; her success gains her the official role of Dragon-Slayer. When a villager brings word of the awakening of the Black Dragon just as her father leaves to put down a rebellion, Aerin rides out to face him, a battle which nearly claims her life. She eventually finds healing with the mage Luthe, but it comes with the price of her mortality.
Luthe informs Aerin that her uncle Agsded is causing the Northern invasion of Damar. Aerin, with her magic awakened, seeks him out, joined by wild dogs and cats. She defeats him on instinct, using a wreath of the plant that nearly killed her combined with the heartstone of the Black Dragon. Aerin both removes the source of aggression fueling the North and regains the protective Crown that was lost long ago. Luthe pulls her back to the proper time and, despite Aerin’s love for him, she races back to the City. She arrives barely in time to turn back a Northern invasion; although her father doesn’t survive, Aerin gives the crown to Tor. They marry, as Aerin also loves him, and Tor insists that Aerin be named Queen rather than simply Honored Wife. Together they rebuild the kingdom.
I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. Aerin is an engaging character who takes action to solve her problems rather than brooding about them; she cares about the good of others and acts accordingly. Her animal friends are entertaining and the fast pace of the plot keeps everything moving.
The style of this book won’t be for everyone. Parts where the author is skipping through time/events read like a fairy tale, with a slightly stylized, remote feel. However, the sections in which Aerin is taking action hooked me and made up for portions which were over-descriptive or dispassionate.
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy fantasy or fairy tales. It has the classic mix of magical creatures, enchanted swords, and battle, but features a strong female character who does the rescuing rather than waiting around for someone else. Other series with a similar feel include The Song of the Lioness and The Protector of the Small. (Honestly, I like Tamora Pierce’s work slightly better as the character development is stronger).