book reviews by Althea

The Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley *****

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I got this book when it was first published, in hardcover.

At the time, ‘The Blue Sword’ (to which this is a prequel) was one of my most-beloved books – and, I have to admit, that at the time, I didn’t feel the ‘The Hero and the Crown’ quite measured up. I liked it – but just not quite as much. (It’s not like I didn’t read it several times, though.)

Re-reading, years later, I understand why I felt the way I did – but I also kind of disagree with my youthful opinion. This is a wonderful book.

It’s a classic quest/hero’s journey tale, but it also incorporates some unusual elements very effectively.

In ‘The Blue Sword,’ Aerin is a legend of history, a dragon slayer and wielder of a sword of magical powers. In ‘The Hero and the Crown’ we meet Aerin and discover how she became a hero.

The first half of the book is very self-contained. It introduces the half-foreign, distrusted and ill-used (but still quite privileged and royal) Aerin, a tomboy who insists on practicing swordplay. I very much enjoyed how, in her country, dragons are small creatures, certainly pestilent, but just vermin to be exterminated. Killing them brings no prestige – it’s just something that has to be done. Aerin’s doggedness and use of the scientific method in figuring out how to eliminate them more efficiently is a rare and appreciated example of the value of methodical persistence in order to accomplish anything. I also very much liked how, for all her efforts, she is consistently underappreciated – but the value of her accomplishments stands on its own. The big showdown with the dragon Maur is at once utterly realistic in detail and gloriously emotional – it brought me to tears.

The second half of the book is where, when I was younger, it lost my attention a bit. It addresses: what happens after one’s most heroic act. It takes someone completely outside Aerin’s social circle to recognize her true value. The mage Luthe calls her, and thus begins the classic ‘magical studies’ part of the plot. Aerin grows and matures, but at the same time begins to feel a little bit more elevated and less accessible to the reader.

However, the ending was rich and deeply satisfying. It’s rare that a story so successfully depicts how one person can love different people in different ways, with each love enhancing one’s life in a deep and meaningful way.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the opportunity to read the ebook version of this title.


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