It’s true. I’m not going to lie – I’ve read Robin McKinley’s The Hero & the Crown many, many times. I felt like I wanted (maybe needed is a better term?) to review a book I’m very familiar with for my inaugural Cannonball Read post. (If it helps, I just paid to have it added to my Kindle collection.)
Aerin is the only child of Arlbeth, King of Damar. She is also the only child of that Witchwoman from the North, and as such is regarded with a great deal of suspicion by her father’s subjects. After all, everyone knows nothing good comes from the North, and she is so different from those around her. Her mother died giving birth to her, but she inherited her appearance from her mother – she is very fair with red, curly hair, when everyone else is cinnamon skinned with dark hair.
Aerin is a teenager, and an awkward one at that. She is incapable of hiding her feelings from others, and often lets herself get goaded into doing stupid things. As a result, she winds up eating a magical plant known as surka. Needless to say, it makes her very ill and her recovery is a protracted one.
During her recovery, she finds herself exploring the Royal Library (smart girl!) and comes across a book with a spell that is supposed to make things fire proof. It is not very specific about portions of the ingredients, but after a lot of trial and error she figures out how to make it work. During this healing time, she has also made friends with her father’s former warhorse, the lame Talat. She learns to ride him without a bridle and no stirrups on the saddle.
Reports start to come from the villages between the City and the North. Small dragons are attacking flocks of farm animals or otherwise being nuisances. Aerin hears of this, and having always been a bit of a tomboy, she takes her new fire proofing spell as a sign that she should go fight dragons. She takes Talat, who won’t be missed, and goes out to a dragon-troubled village. It winds up being harder than she thought – just being fire proof wasn’t enough. She needed sword and spear skills, and a bit of luck as well.
Grumblings of discontent and fear are spreading throughout Damar. The resurgence of dragon trouble can only be a sign of bad things coming from the North. Arlbeth learns of a potential rebellion in the northern-most portion of his kingdom and rides out with his army to deal with it. Before he leaves, a messenger rides in that Maur, the last of the great dragons, has awoken. Arlbeth assures him that he’ll take care of that when he returns from putting down the rebellion. Aerin knows Maur can’t be put off like that and rides out by herself to fight the great dragon.
At this point, I’m going to stop giving you a blow-by-blow account of the story. We’re less than halfway through and Robin McKinley’s prose and world building are not being done justice by my poor attempts to describe them. Aerin eventually finds an inner strength that helps her kick butt and take names while facing challenges that would make me whimper in a corner.
It’s true – this is a Newberry Award winning book, but that in no way makes it appropriate only for children. It’s just a fantastic fantasy story appropriate for ages 8 and up. A true sword and sorcery epic. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten different things out of it. Give it a try, or at least make sure it goes on your kid’s to-read list. Better yet, both of you read it and talk about it.