Review: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77366.The_Hero_and_the_Crown?from_search=true
Title: The Hero and the Crown
Author: Robin McKinley
Genres: YA Fantasy
How to Purchase: Paperback http://www.amazon.com/The-Hero-Crown-Robin-McKinley/dp/0141309814/
My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Although she is the daughter of Damar’s king, Aerin has never been accepted as full royalty. Both in and out of the royal court, people whisper the story of her mother, the witchwoman, who was said to have enspelled the king into marrying her to get an heir to rule Damar-then died of despair when she found she had borne a daughter instead of a son. But none of them, not even Aerin herself, can predict her future-for she is to be the true hero who will wield the power of the Blue Sword…
My Thoughts on the Story
Aerin of Damar has been my inspiration since I was about twelve years old. She starts as an outcast from her own people, but through her stubborn efforts, she manages to become a dragon slayer and even rescue her kingdom from their most dangerous enemy. And through it all, she keeps her head up with surprising humor and insight.
There are almost too many reasons for me to list about why I love this book. I love the other characters like Tor, Aerin’s cousin, who has close friendship with her that reminds me of me and my closest cousin when we grew up together; Luthe, the mysterious and reclusive mage, who does what he can to prepare Aerin for her quest; and Talat, her beloved and mischievous horse. I love the other animals that show up in the story, the wild cats and dogs that help Aerin, and Aerin’s relationships with her nursemaid Teka and her father, King Arlbeth. I even like her rivalry with her cousins, which adds more humor to the story. And even Aerin’s magical sword, Gonturan, has her own personality.
I love how Aerin is very scientific about her experiments with creating kenet, the ointment that’s proof against dragon fire. She works from an old recipe found in the back of a history book, which is vague at best, so she has to figure out what some of the more obscure herbs are and what ratios the ointment requires. For her experiments, she sets up in a wood shed and meticulously makes very small batches at a time, noting down her formulae for each one, and tests is fire-protecting properties. The effort takes her years—showing that Aerin has a lot of dedication and she has book smarts as well as fighting skills.
And in this and other stories by Robin McKinley, I love Damarian culture. Although there are castles and soldiers who fight on horseback, it’s far from the generic pseudo-medieval European culture found in many fantasy stories. There are unique customs, like archers who can sing to their arrows and tell them where to go in an ancient folk magic, and the numerous strange deities in their religion, like the God Who Isn’t There and the God Who Climbs. McKinley also describes how their culture changes over time to adapt to new circumstances when the plains of the kingdom become a desert. In later history, Aerin becomes a legend. In The Blue Sword, the main character Harry sees Aerin in visions like a goddess, partly because she now wields the blue sword Gonturan that Aerin once carried.
My Favorite Meal of the Book
I love reading about food and trying to imagine what it tastes like. (I put a good amount of food into my own stories!) So I often remember stories by what kind food the characters ate. In The Hero and the Crown, I wanted to try the hot drink called malak and the treats called mik bars. Malak sounds like a cross between a hot broth and a spiced tea (Aerin comments on how she has to cool it down with milk after her injuries, and then the drink loses its bite), and mik bars sound like they could be some kind of cookie or biscuit. Both sound like tasty comfort food, but sadly, I can only imagine what they might taste like.
Funniest Moment of the Book
There’s a lot of funny moments in the story, particularly because Aerin seems to get into trouble a lot. One of my favorite scenes is when Aerin is facing off against her cousin, Galanna, who is jealous of Aerin for being the “baby” of the family. They have a long-standing rivalry against each other, played out over their childhood as a series of insults and escalating pranks.
The part that always makes me laugh out loud is when teen Aerin drugged Galanna’s wine at dinner, and then snuck into her bedroom while she was asleep and cut off her prized long eyelashes. Galanna is extremely vain, so she takes the “disfigurement” very harshly, and dramatically insists on wearing a veil until her eyelashes grow back. When she accuses Aerin of the prank, Aerin doesn’t deny her guilt—instead she retorts that she could have shaved Galanna’s whole head because she was so heavily asleep. Galanna slaps Aerin, which gives her the excuse to jump her and rip most of the lace off of her fancy dress. The images of the two teen cousins rolling around on the floor cracks me up every time—especially when Aerin notices that the castle servants, who are mistreated by Galanna, are a little slow to break up the fight. Their fights sound more like sisters since Aerin is an only child and they grow up in the same castle together.
This is one of my favorite books, and I re-read it every couple of years. There are some passages that I know almost word-for-word because I love them so much. I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes heroic fantasy with a female lead and enjoys a little smart humor with their magic. Also, if you like classic dragons that are more terrifying than friendly, Maur belongs in a category with legends like Smaug. I hope that I can one day write a story as moving and funny as The Hero and the Crown.