Title: The Hero and the Crown
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Open Road Media Teen & Tween
Publication date: November 18th 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
In Robin McKinley’s Newbery Medal–winning novel, an outcast princess must earn her birthright as a hero of the realm
Aerin is an outcast in her own father’s court, daughter of the foreign woman who, it was rumored, was a witch, and enchanted the king to marry her.
She makes friends with her father’s lame, retired warhorse, Talat, and discovers an old, overlooked, and dangerously imprecise recipe for dragon-fire-proof ointment in a dusty corner of her father’s library. Two years, many canter circles to the left to strengthen Talat’s weak leg, and many burnt twigs (and a few fingers) secretly experimenting with the ointment recipe later, Aerin is present when someone comes from an outlying village to report a marauding dragon to the king. Aerin slips off alone to fetch her horse, her sword, and her fireproof ointment . . .
But modern dragons, while formidable opponents fully capable of killing a human being, are small and accounted vermin. There is no honor in killing dragons. The great dragons are a tale out of ancient history.
That is, until the day that the king is riding out at the head of an army. A weary man on an exhausted horse staggers into the courtyard where the king’s troop is assembled: “The Black Dragon has come . . . Maur, who has not been seen for generations, the last of the great dragons, great as a mountain. Maur has awakened.”
It doesn’t take much to understand why this is such a beloved children’s/YA book. I mean, it has an amazing female protagonist who is unafraid to follow her heart regardless of the opinions of others, a beautiful prose, and dragons. What I do not comprehend, is how I hadn’t heard of The Hero and the Crown earlier.
The Hero and the Crown tells us the story of Aerin, a young girl, a princess if you will, who is followed by rumours. Courtiers and villagers alike claim she is half-witch – for how could her father, the King, have married the enemy? He must have been enchanted. It doesn’t help that Aerin shows no signs of magic, unlike all others in the royal family. In this, she’s as good as a peasant. Indeed, albeit being the King’s only child and loved by her father, it is Aerin’s cousin who is to inherit the throne. But Aerin has learnt not to be bothered by this. She has better things to spend her time on anyway. She has to get her father’s old horse back to running shape, learn to sword fight, create a fire resistant pomade, and then, only then, set out towards her goal: slay dragons.
How cool is that?!
McKinley takes her time in weaving the book’s plot. Instead of jumping straight to the action like so many other authors do, she makes sure we learn about the world and politics of Damar. She pays as much attention to the main plot as to showing us every horror Aerin suffered as she grew up and how she built up her relationship with the other characters. She does so flawlessly too – well, if one disregards the love triangle, which I’m not a complete fan of even if I do understand why it exists.
What’s more, this is very much a feminist book. Not a preachy sort, mind, but one that points out that it makes no sense for the sole child of the king not to be first in line, and clearly shows that she can be as great a dragon slayer as many before her – if not better.
What truly won me over, however, was the writing. This book reads like a fairytale. Ornately simple, it didn’t fail in transporting me to a world of magic, dragons, princesses, and other mythological creatures, where everything is possible. And that is one fantastic feeling.
If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend you get started on it. It truly is one of a kind.
The book in a quote
“If you try to breathe water, you will not turn into a fish, you will drown; but water is still good to drink.”