Sally’s Rating 4/5
On the surface, Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown tells the tale of a girl who secretly trains to fight a black dragon and throughout the adventure finds her destiny. Yet, this simplistic tale tells a more complex story about finding one’s place in society and how sometimes one must step out of their assigned roles in order to find one’s greater purpose.
Aerin, the only child of the king of Damar, starts the book as a timid, sickly girl who has no real voice in her father’s court. As she slowly regains her strength, she secretly learns to fight with a sword, ride a horse, and create a recipe that will protect her from dragon fire. After secretly riding around killing some smaller dragons, she learns that Maur, the Black Dragon, has once again resurfaced.
This was an unexpected tale, because most stories would end with the heroine successfully killing the dragon. Yet this battle happens halfway through the novel; the greater threat is actually an army led by her uncle and Aerin’s struggle to regain her strength after her battle with the dragon. It was refreshing to read a book that took its time to chronicle the corruption of the kingdom and didn’t have the enemy be someone who could easily be dispatched. Its greater focus is on the consequences of the battles and how winning a fight doesn’t always mean that everything magically gets better.
The best parts of the book involve her growing bond with her father’s old lame warhorse, Talat. Saving him from a fate of being stuck in the stable’s forever, Aerin gives him a new sense of purpose as she begins to get the idea that she wants to kill the small dragons that are plaguing the countryside. Additionally, she attracts an army of wild cats and dogs throughout her quest, and her acceptance of her new animal friends makes her a fun heroine to follow.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the omniscient narration style. I wish it was solely from Aerin’s point of view, but the author frequently skips around to what the other characters are feeling or thinking during the middle of the chapter. While it didn’t impact the tale being told, it was a minor irritation in a beautifully told story.
This book is definitely to be recommended. The Hero and the Crown can easily be read by middle schoolers and adults alike, especially those who enjoy strong heroines and the fantasy genre.