Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Hero and the Crown

by Robin McKinley

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The Hero and the Crown

by Robin McKinley

Reviewed November 16, 2009.
Greenwillow Books, New York, 1984. 246 pages.
1985 Newbery Medal Winner
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: Wonderful Rereads

Naturally, taking a class on the Newbery Medal was the perfect excuse to reread my all-time favorite Newbery Medal winner, The Hero and the Crown. I've already posted a review of my favorite Newbery Honor Book, The Blue Sword, which, no coincidence, is also by Robin McKinley.

I was a college student when The Hero and the Crown was written, and I'm not sure when I first discovered it, but now it's one of those books I simply have to revisit every few years. Reading it again this time, I happened to have a persistent headache, but, my goodness, this book makes me feel ready to go out and slay my own dragons.

Technically, The Hero and the Crown is a prequel to The Blue Sword, since it was written second but the events in the story take place before those of The Blue Sword. Nowadays, they would call it a "Companion Novel," because really the order doesn't matter. I happened to read The Hero and the Crown first myself, and that worked fine. All I know is this: It doesn't matter in which order you read them, just be sure that you read them!

If you like fantasy novels even the slightest bit, with these two books Robin McKinley established herself as the queen of the adventure heroine fantasy genre.

Aerin has always known she's a misfit of a princess. Her mother was a witchwoman who enchanted the king, and Aerin has never shown any sign of manifesting the Gift for magic that all proper royals have.

Alas, the kingdom of Damar is having plenty of trouble, which is only to be expected since the loss of the Hero's Crown.

Then her cousin Galanna goads Aerin into eating a Surka leaf -- a plant that should manifest her Gift, if she had any. Aerin, instead, gets horribly ill. While recovering and trying to stay out of everyone's way, she befriends her father's old wounded warhorse, Talat. In her reading, she learns about an old potion that protects against dragonfire. Through persistent experiments, she perfects the formula for the ointment.

Now Aerin the witchwoman's daughter is ready to make herself useful. With old broken-down Talat she begins fighting off the nasty vermin dragons that were out plaguing the villages.

But then, as her father is leaving to settle an uprising, a messenger comes bearing dread news.

The Black Dragon has come.... Maur, who has not been seen for generations, the last of the great dragons, great as a mountain. Maur has awakened.

This is the first tremendous challenge Aerin attempts and conquers, armed with her persistence and sheer determination.

The Hero and the Crown is one of the great girl-power novels of all time, along with magic and dragons and saving a kingdom and changing from a misfit to a true heroine. Fantasy lovers, like me, will come back to it again and again.