Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Love for the Hero and the Crown

Like Melissa, I read The Hero and The Crown a long time ago. I was an adult, but I've always liked fantasy, and when this was publicized as award-winning YA fantasy, I eagerly picked it up and wasn't disappointed. I went on to read everything that Robin McKinley published (which has not been nearly enough over the years!), most recently Sunshine - a post-apocalyptic vampire story - and I've loved them all. So I'm hardly an objective reviewer either.

I never re-read The Hero and the Crown after I discovered it in the late 80's, though, so when I picked it up last week I really couldn't remember why I loved it so much, nor many of the details of the story.

It didn't take me long to realize that (again, like Melissa) it was the writing and the characters - especially Aerin, the main character - that really got to me. Like J.R.R. Tolkien (sorry, but that's what got me hooked so hard on fantasy as a child), McKinley combines the mythical and the down-to-earth perfectly. And furthermore, she writes about a young girl, the rescue of a beautiful and intelligent horse, dragons, and secret powers - I would have read this and re-read it countless times if it had been out when I was an adolescent. Now, I noticed how cleverly that McKinley portrayed Aerin as a likable, irreverant, smart outsider - much like Rae in Sunshine, come to think of it.

There are a few things that bothered me a bit this time around. McKinley does an incredible job of world-building, but the Damarian names for things jarred sometimes. I didn't mind sol and sola (princes and princesses) so much, but hafor (for "folk of the household") and yerig and folstza and a few other terms interrupted the narrative unnecessarily.

There are two love stories in the book - I liked them both, and the more than "happily ever after" ending was a refreshing change. Funny how I completely forgot about Luthe (and pretty much Tor, too) since the first time I read The Hero and the Crown. Mostly I remembered Aerin, her horse, and the dragon. But although there's nothing particularly explicit about Aerin's relationship with Luthe, I think that it makes the book more appropriate for older Newbery readers. Plus, the writing (though exquisite), can be rather intense. Take this excerpt about despair:
A blast of grief, of the deaths of children, of crippling diseases that took beauty at once but withheld death; of unconsummated love, of love lost or twisted and grown to hate; of noble deeds that proved useless, that broke the hearts of their doers; of betrayal without reason, of guilt without penance, of all the human miseries that have ever occurred; all this struck them, like the breath of a slaughterhouse, or the blow of a murderer. (p. 208).
Have you ever read a more poetic description of despair and depression? Luckily, it is overcome, and the story ends happily with puppies and kittens and love. For a while, anyway, and isn't that the case in real life, too?


Sandy D. said...

This is cover I remember from when the book was first published. I actually like some of the more recent covers more, but I felt compelled to use this one, because it's the one I remember so vividly.

Melissa said...

That's the cover on the copy I have. I wasn't even aware that there are newer copies.

I did remember Luthe (but not Tor) from a previous reading. But then, I read it as an adult for the first time. I just didn't remember that he came so late in the book.

And you're right about the extra stuff... it did kind of get in the way.

Sandy D. said...

Check out the classy English cover: http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/51IbL3IVE+L._AA240_.jpg

I went to McKinley's website to see if she had illustrations of all the cover (she didn't, but you can do a Google image search and pull up four or five others), and I saw that she has a new YA novel coming out in September: Dragonhaven !

Sandy D. said...

Agh, didn't get the link right for the English cover. Here it is.

Framed said...

I have this book down for my "Unread Authors Challenge." I had no idea it had been written more than twenty years ago. Sounds like it has held up really well. I can't wait to get to it. Thanks for the review.