Title: The Hero and the Crown
Author: Robin McKinley
Series: Damar #2
Aerin is the king’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean much to a people who are half-convinced her mother witched her father. An awkward, plain, Giftless princess who tries to hide in the shadows, Aerin is acutely aware of her shortcomings. But her persistence in odd hobbies reaps unexpected dividends when she discovers an ointment to protect herself from dragonfire, and volunteers herself to slay dragons. Small, nasty, vermin dragons, which is a job with as much glory as hunting rats. Then the real trouble arrives . . .
I’ve liked this book a lot ever since childhood, although now, rereading it again, I can see things that just don’t seem to hang together as well. What exactly draws the cats and dogs to Aerin’s side? They just show up, and suddenly they’re allies. And the evil villain is brought up and disposed very quickly, so he never really feels like much of a threat, more of an aside to the actual plot. He doesn’t force Aerin to come to grips with any of the issues she’s been struggling with, or serve any kind of thematic climax. He’s just there. Which is kind of funny considering he’s supposed to be mega-threatening.
And it’s both puzzling and annoying that Aerin sleeps with Luthe when she does, because she is highly conscious of her duty as a princess, and that sort of thing tends to have severe repercussions on the marriageability of princesses (and depending on how soon she and Tor had a child, could cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the heir. Which, given Aerin’s own precarious position, doesn’t seem like her to wish upon another). And it’s not very fair to Tor. The story would have worked equally well if she’d just liked Luthe, and gone back to him after Tor died.
But for all that, the story is still a good one. Aerin’s a princess without the usual princess trappings. She gets stuck with much of the duties but few of the benefits. What she earns, she earns through study and experimentation and hard work, and her victories are as likely to grant her sympathy as acclaim. Because while dragons may need slaying, no one’s overly keen on glorifying the butchery. And the courtiers turn up their noses at those who manage the grunt work, dragons or no. Aerin spends most of the book sick with one thing or another, and being a wallflower, so her eventual victories feel like great triumphs.
So Aerin is very human, and relateable. She befriends a horse, defends her country from dragons great and small, and in the end finds a place for herself, even if it’s not going to be entirely comfortable.
Overall this is a good read. The later portion tends to feel a bit dreamy because so much is happening that doesn’t quite make sense, and there’s bits of the mythic creeping in about the edges. I rate this book Recommended.