The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1984)

He looked at her, feeling a twitch of surprise; in her smile for the first time he saw that which was going to trouble his sleep very soon; something very unlike the friendship they’d enjoyed all their lives thus far; something that would raise the barrier between them much faster than anything else could; the barrier thus far Aerin alone saw growing (p 58).

hero-and-the-crownIn the land of Damar, Aerin is the King’s daughter by his second wife, rumored to have been a witchwoman. Aerin’s heard the stories – her mother died birthing her and people say her father was bewitched by her.

Some suspect she isn’t even the King’s daughter. She does not show signs of the Gifts held by those of royal blood. Her cousin, Galanna, teases her and those in court look down on her pityingly. Her father is distant but kind. Only Tor, the first sola,heir to the crown, and Aerin’s cousin, befriends her.

Determined to earn her place at her father’s side, Aerin practices swordplay and works to discover a long-lost recipe for defense against dragon fire. Soon, Aerin is the kingdom’s finest dragon slayer, though it does not earn her the respect she hoped for.

Soon, the kingdom is facing bigger threats and Aerin is the only one with a chance of defeating them. With the aid of the wizard, Luthe, Aerin must claim her destiny though it change her forever.


McKinley’s novels are usually hit or miss for me. I disliked Dragonhaven, couldn’t get past the first chapter of Pegasus, but I loved Beauty. 

The Hero and the Crown is the first of her novels that I have mixed feelings about.

Overall, the plotting was excellent – complexed and nuanced – but the pacing was uneven. Some events were confused and so brief that important events seemed less significant. For most of the novel, I did not fear the evil (not until the end when Aerin had to deal with Maur’s head).

Passages where characters interacted and reacted to each other were brilliant and engaging. All the scenes between Aerin and Tor or Aerin and Luthe caused my heart to beat a little quicker.

But when McKinley fell to describing the kingdom or telling about characters, I found some parts to be clunky and sometimes, awkwardly worded. Alternately, some things were revealed subtly in graceful lines. Overall, it left me feeling skewed and feeling like something was missing or the book incomplete.


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