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Robin McKinley – The Hero and the Crown

May 28, 2014

37. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (1984)

Length: 246 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Started: 26 April 2014
Finished: 01 May 2014

Where did it come from? BookMooch.
Why do I have it? Alyce’s fault.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 24 March 2010.

Tough break: the giant
dragon isn’t the biggest
threat facing your home.

Summary: Aerin’s the daughter of the king of the struggling kingdom of Damar, but everyone whispers that her mother was a witch from the North who bewitched the King, making Aerin not really a real princess. She grows up largely as an outcast from the royal court, much preferring riding her otherwise untameable horse to staying trammeled in the castle listening to the hum of gossip about her. But when Aerin rediscovers an old potion recipe for making a fireproofing spell, she realizes she can at least be useful to the kingdom in which she doesn’t really fit. She starts slaying dragons – a dangerous and thankless task, but one which must be done. But neither Aerin nor anyone else in the kingdom forsees the destiny that this choice has given her.

Review: Well, that’s it, I think I’m officially giving up on McKinley’s work. I just do not get along with her writing style, and this book was no exception.

Or rather, half of this book was no exception. The first half of the story – the tale of Aerin’s girlhood and teen years, up to the point where she fights the Big Dragon – is really quite good. It’s still not my favorite style of storytelling; it shifted through time, back and forwards through the story, in a way that I didn’t always follow or feel was necessary. But overall, it was a lot more personal, a lot closer to Aerin’s point of view, with realistic dialogue, some touches of humor, and a story that gave you a good feel for who Aerin was and how she got to be like that. But the second half of the book went from character focused to weirdly distant and epic in tone, even though it was still technically Aerin’s POV. There’s a lot of mythical questing and quasi-immortal beings and strange surreal battle scenes and magical McGuffins that are linked to the land and nature magic and that sort of silliness, and the whole thing loses the immediacy and intimacy of the first half in exchange for a lot of pretentious blather about destiny and mortal lifespans and blah. It really felt like there were halves of two totally different books only roughly joined together, and although I would have liked to have kept reading the book of the first half, the dry second half totally put me off. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I know a lot of people really like McKinley’s work, so I am maybe not the best one to judge. But even among the books of hers that I’ve read, this was not one of my favorites.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Book Harbinger, Frances and Lynne, Into the Wardrobe, Stella Matutina and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: She could not remember a time when she had not known the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2014 3:55 pm

    I understand your giving up on Robin McKinley (I’ve only truly loved two of her books out of all the ones I’ve read), but I’m a bit sad you’re giving up without ever reading Sunshine. Sunshine remains my favorite vampire book ever, and is one of the comfort books that I pick up whenever I’m feeling crappy.

    • May 28, 2014 8:23 pm

      Jenny – Okay, sold. I’ll pull it off my “to the library” pile and put it back in the TBR. What’s the other one you’ve loved?

      • May 30, 2014 3:50 pm

        Um. Beauty. Which I know you did not care for! However, I read it as a kid, and that makes a big difference in how you feel about some books. I read Sunshine as an adult, and I have reread it as an adult, and I strongly feel that it holds up.

      • June 2, 2014 7:49 pm

        I didn’t dislike Beauty – I liked it better than several of her other books. (I felt the same way about Outlaws of Sherwood, which I think you also recommended?) But I absolutely understand the books-you-read-as-a-kid thing… I’m sure some of my favorites wouldn’t hold up to a first reading nowadays.

  2. June 4, 2014 12:08 pm

    I like McKinley’s stuff a lot, but I can totally see your point. I think that, except for Sunshine, there is always something of a distant tone, a narrative disconnect (and good dialogue is not her strong point). I heartily second Jenny’s recommendation that you read Sunshine, though. That’s much more immediate, the characters are realistic (insasmuch as magicians or vampires or part-demons can be), and the world is really well done.

    The Hero and the Crown isn’t my favourite of her novels, and while I do like some bits, you’ve articulated really well what I dislike about it.

  3. June 6, 2014 11:04 pm

    For what it’s worth, I feel like The Hero and the Crown is one of McKinley’s High(ish) Fantasy books. I liked it well enough, but it’s not a favorite of mine. I tend to do MUCH better with her Fairy Tale books (Beauty, Rose-Daughter, Spindle’s End and Chalice).

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