The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley
Though this book won the 1985 Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature, it is a
rather grown-up book. I suppose that proves that a book doesn't have to be about children, or
even necessarily written for children, to be enjoyed by young readers.
This is a classic example of the "sword and sorcery" type of novel, set in a long-ago legendary
land called Damar. There the king's daughter, flame-haired Aerin, grows up isolated and
distrusted by the courtly people around her. Her mother was a commoner and, worse, came from the
mysterious and demon-ridden north country; she died in childbirth, allegedly out of
disappointment at bearing a daughter. And Aerin herself lacks the magical abilities that single
out those born to royal blood.
Whispered about by the common people and routinely humiliated by her blueblood cousins, Aerin
spends much of her time in seclusion, learning sword-fighting from Tor (the heir-apparent who
loves her) and horse-riding from a crippled battle-stallion named Talat. When an ancient
manuscript inspires her to take up dragon-slaying as a hobby, Aerin's unique destiny begins to
show its shape.
On her way to that destiny, though, she goes through unspeakable dangers, carrying away wounds
without and within. She faces the great Black Dragon alone. She gathers a very strange army. She
journeys through the shadow of death to the pinnacle of evil, where a kind of Dark Lord threatens
to destroy her land and all that she loves. And she emerges with a long-lost emblem of power, to
taste love, and battle, and grief, and victory.
It is a very beautifully written book, delighting all the senses with rich and vibrant imagery.
It is also a deeply introspective, mature, and realistic study of the emotions of a woman torn
between resentment and loyalty, loneliness and love, courage and cowardice, despair and hope. I
might also mention that it succeeds in creating terror, suspense, courtly melodrama, and grimly
powerful battle scenes. Have a taste of this little sample:
Still she climbed, but she no longer felt alone. Evil was with her; red evil shone in her eyes,
rode on her shoulders, harried her heels; waited in the dark doorways where she would not look,
fell like ash and rose like smoke from the torches. Evil was all around her, and it watched her,
eyelessly, watched for her first stumble.
This book is the prequel to a 1983 Newbery Honor Book called The Blue Sword
McKinley has also written The Outlaws of Sherwood
, Spindle's End
, Rose Daughter
, as well as Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
Recommended Age: 14+
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