Week 7, Book 5: The Hero and The Crown

The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley
Goodreads Rating: 4/5 – “really liked it”

Where I Got This Book: If you remember last week’s post, I got this book the same place as I purchased the first book in the Damar series: the used bookstore in my hometown. It’s in a bit better condition than TBS, though – no tape on the spine! I am such a sucker for the very 80’s paperback book cover art. Raised gold lettering and all.

The Book and Me: So, remember how I kept saying “never read this one before, really looking forward to it!”? Well, I was wrong! I had read this before. When or where, I have no clue, but I definitely have. It was less familiar and less well-remembered in my mind though, and I’m assuming it was around the same time as reading TBS.

My Rating: Again, a 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. I almost put it as a 5/5, because I really, really love this book. But not quite! It is engrossing and fascinating and thoroughly delightful. TBS was still fresh, of course, which made it doubly interesting to spot bits that are of importance in that book… and at moments the knowledge I had from TBS made it so that I could predict something coming up (such as meeting Luthe), which was particularly interesting! It wasn’t spoiler-y, really, but with this book as a prequel, not a first book, it is quite elegantly done, I think.

Potential Spoilers Beneath Cut

What I Love About This Book: The dragons. The dragons, Aerin, Talat (her horse), Perlith (her elegantly mean and sharp-tongued cousin who is given a hero’s death and of whom I’m rather fond, despite his nastiness), Luthe (who also appeared in TBS but who we see much more of here), the battles, the familiar-yet-different and still evocative terrain, the fact that the two romance storylines are written quite well… but especially the dragons. They aren’t actually a terribly grandiose part of the story. Aerin, the titular hero, earns the nickname “Dragon Killer” but the dragons she is killing are not the fantastic flying beasts of great size and fame we are all familiar with. No, those dragons are myth even to the Damarians. She kills instead dragons that are pests, rising barely to waist height and dangerous enough to kill small children and maybe a horse or two when cornered by hunters. It is in an inglorious business… and I love it for that. I have something of an obsession with dragons, and even more of an obsession with dragons that break the mold of the fantasy norm. Considering the fleeting wisps of memory I attach to this book, I suspect it may have been in reading this that I first got the idea of dragons-as-vermin.

I am also very fond of Aerin as a hero. Unlike Harry in TBS (who I do still love, don’t get me wrong!), Aerin has to work hard in the typical non-magical non specially chosen completely mortal way. Despite her high birth (daughter of the king) and despite her final fate that we know of: Aerin as the figure of legend in Harry’s day. She’s something of an outcast, because of her mother being from the North and reputedly a “witchwoman”, and her lack of the Royal gift or kelar as they do not yet know to call it – which, in fact, Aerin has in great quantities but which she has yet to grow into. She reminds me something of the difference between Tamora Pierce’s Tortall heroines – Harry is alike to Alanna, aided by magic and fate (as it were), while Aerin is more akin to Kel, earning her way via sweat and sacrifice… and yes, touches of magic and luck. By the end of the story, of course, we have Lady Aerin, Dragon-Killer (of the last of the Great Old Dragons) and the figure of legend, but the way her journey progresses… its wonderful.

Also, one of my critiques of TBS was that the sudden romance plot at the end felt forced. Well, McKinley improved with this one! We see from fairly early on, a believable, steadily developed romance – developed from just one side, mostly, that of Tor, who is Aerin’s best friend when she was young (and he’s her older cousin… Royalty!). But we also get a second romance, of Aerin & Luthe, which is Aerin’s first and is wonderfully done. By the end of the book, Aerin has left Luthe to live out her mortal life (she is also not-quite-mortal) and perhaps some day see him again, but to love and live with Tor. I like both. And I also really like that in the book, Aerin simply accepts that she loves two men and McKinley doesn’t bother trying to degrade either one. Very nice.

What I Can Critique in This Book: We know, of course, that Aerin is a red-head in a land of brown-skinned and black-haired people even before opening this book. And this, it turns out, is despite Aerin’s much more directly mixed blood status – her father is pure Damarian native. She isn’t pale white, of course, and is contrasted with the blond Luthe later in the book as being darker (“rose and gold” to his “milk-white”, I believe), but still. And there is myth-purpose in her hair colour: she is called Aerin Fire-hair. But she achieves her fabled hair colour (the dark red of glowing embers, it is described as) through wounding by dragon-fire, which darkens it from the flame-orange it originally had been. But still… I can’t help but wish that we would get a Damarian hero who was Damarian-dark (“cinnamon-brown” they are described as, at one point) and black-haired.

Why You Should Read This Book: Another strong, wonderful heroine, an engaging plot (which I think of as two-pronged), atypical dragons, a demon king, several epic battles, an immortal wizard who prefers not to meddle (Luthe!), and more wonderfully characterized horses. If you read The Blue Sword, you must read this as well. Absolutely must! :D

Next Week: I read more dragons with Age of Fire Book One: Dragon Champion by E. E. Knight. Am looking forward to cracking it open – have never read anything by E. E. Knight, so far as I am aware, and a book that on the back cover mentions mercenary elves, vicious humans, and features dragons as the main character…? Fantastic. Unusual takes on dragonkind is something I will always pick up and read. And it smells like new book. Mmmm, new books…

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About C/J

I'm a queer university student in Atlantic Canada, studying the liberal arts with a particular interest in history, linguistics, and (physical) anthropology, as well as any language I can get my hands on and anything else that strikes my fancy. I live my life by two words: question everything. (Including that notion itself.)

Posted on February 18, 2012, in 52 in 52, Stories That Shaped Me and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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