The Hero and the Crown – Robin McKinley
Marirosa Mia: Seriously, Julie, I'm starting the think that my "to read" pile is a treasure trove of gems, because here's another one! I've been a fan of Robin McKinley since my friend Annie told me to read SUNSHINE, which led me to DEERSKIN, then SPINDLE'S END and more. Well, McKinley does it again in my opinion. THE HERO AND THE CROWN focuses on Aerin, fiery haired daughter of the King of Damar, who longs for more than her noble duties (a plot that sounds - on the surface - similar to that of Pixar's BRAVE, which isn't necessarily bad, as I have a feeling BRAVE will be just as cool as this book). Little by little Aerin explores her true calling: dragon killer. Finding her way is not without its scars. Aware that a hero doesn't need to win every battle unscathed, McKinley doesn't protect her heroine from all the dragon fire that comes her way. Julie, what did you think of THE HERO AND THE CROWN?
Julie: Do you know what arrived in the mail today? Robin McKinley's THE BLUE SWORD. Why? Because as soon as I finished THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I needed to have its sister novel. That's how much I love THE HERO AND THE CROWN. I love its peaceful tone. Much happens in the novel, but you can just sink down into the language and float along, enjoying the ride. McKinley is a master of structure and pacing, too. She tells us enough to let us know that there's an important moment coming, but then holds off a while, building the characters and their relationships and alluding to other momentous occasions, before delving into that first moment. So we're intrigued from the start, and the character building is so compelling we never feel frustrated by the delay. Were you also amazed by her weaving of storylines, Mia?
M: You beat me to it, Julie! I totally want to snag a copy of THE BLUE SWORD from my local library. And yes, I agree with everything you said below. There's something about McKinley's writing (like Diana Wynne Jones's) that even from the very beginning makes you say: Oh, this is going to be good. And you settle yourself a little deeper into your couch as you go along. As you said, she has a way of weaving her story such that you can feel it building in your bones, and you can't wait to finally get to that scene that she's created for you to find. I love Aerin. I love her perseverance. I love that a lot of her success can be attributed to her patience and intelligence in addition to her bravery. I like that her relationship with her father is a bit like two people who are constantly pleasantly surprised by each other. What about you, Julie?
J: I love Aerin too. I love how much she accomplishes through sheer courage and determination. And I love how some of the problems that loom large for her as a child are shown later from a different perspective. The book worked for me almost through and through. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll carefully say that I wasn't particularly compelled by a battle she has toward the end of the book with a person of great power. And I don't think romantic scenes are McKinley's forte. Do you agree, Mia?
M: I don't think McKinley is a fan of gooey love or love scenes. This is something I see in many of her novels. While love is present, it's not always a passionate love. It's more typically a companionate love, different from that presented in other fantasy novels. Then again, considering most of her heroines have things to do like battle dragons, the kind of love she depicts is most realistic for her heroines' lives, don't you think? I don't see Aerin swooning over anyone; I see her finding love through respect and admiration. As for the final battle, I agree...but...ah! How to discuss without spoiling anything? But I can say the battle she has around the middle of the book left me at the edge of my seat!
J: Yes, that middle battle is terrifying! And I appreciate that McKinley has no interest in gooey love scenes. Her books certainly don't need them. But I think she errs a tiny bit too far on the side of emotional reserve, or denial, for her heroines until quite late in the day. (I've now finished THE BLUE SWORD--which I can send to you, by the way--and I think the same is true there.) Regardless, such a quibble! I think I'm on to McKinley's BEAUTY next. And you, Mia? Any other complaints about THE HERO AND THE CROWN, large or small?
M: No worries, I'll get the BLUE SWORD from my local library since it's so close to me (just 6 blocks, I'm a lucky girl). I think aside from the battle scene we spoke of I have no other quibbles with the book! Let me know if you ever get to DEERSKIN (my fave and a bit intense). Now off you go, dear readers, to your local bookstore or library, to get yourselves THE HERO AND THE CROWN.