This book came out in 1984 but still bears up well. It is a fantasy novel set in a kingdom where magic abounds. Aerin is the only child of her father the king and his late wife who was thought to be a witch. The rumor is Aerin’s mother cast a spell on the king to marry her consequently Aerin is treated as an outsider by the court. This is fine with Aerin who would rather have nothing to do with the superficial nobles. Instead she forms a close relationship with her father’s retired war horse and secretly trains in carrying arms and fighting.
This training stands her in good stead when she decides to take on dragon slaying as a profession. What Aerin doesn’t understand is the dragon hunting is preparing her for something even bigger. The fate of the kingdom will ultimately rest on Aerin’s shoulders as she must battle human and supernatural forces to bring balance and peace to the kingdom.
This novel has strong female and male characters sure to appeal to both male and female readers. Even the unlikable characters have more depth to them than is typical of most fantasy novels. What intrigued me about this story was the complex romantic relationship Aerin forms with two different characters; I found this surprising in a young reader’s story but Robin McKinley has always managed to take her readers in a different direction. I highly recommend this book for middle school readers on up.
The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. Greenwillow Books, NY 1984.