When I was a kid, I decided I didn’t like fantasy novels. I can’t remember what did it. Maybe I read a bum story or someone dropped a crack about the genre or — who knows. But I can tell you what happened after that: I spent decades isolating myself from some of the most sweeping and imaginative storytelling out there.
Now I’m making up for lost time.
Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown is one of the most recent fantasies to blow me away.
Set in the land of Damar, it follows the adventures of Aerin, the king’s daughter who is unpopular and widely considered a failure in court. She befriends her father’s broken old warhorse and discovers an ointment that protects against dragon fire. And then, when the kingdom is attacked, she disobeys her father and sets off to defend the kingdom that couldn’t care less about her.
This is no dainty tale. Aerin gets beat up. She keeps going. The sun beats down, the land shimmers. She gets beat up again. She keeps going. She has guts and brains and heart. And she turns out to be one butt-kicking dragon fighter.
McKinley won the Newbery in 1985 for The Hero and the Crown. She deserves it. The writing is physical and fearsome; the tale epic.
In fact, the combination of the ferocity of the story, the richness of the writing, and the complications of the plot might nudge the novel more into the realm of young adult literature than kids’. A couple of kids I’ve talked to haven’t liked it. But then, not all kids love The Hobbit, either. So I will suggest it cautiously… and reread it soon. Now that I finally found it, I’m not letting it go.
- Molly McCall