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sophia_sol ([personal profile] sophia_sol) wrote2017-04-05 08:47 pm

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley has written two books set in the fantasy land of Damar, and this is one of them. Apparently she always intended to write more, but has never quite gotten around to it.

Of the two extant Damar books, I always liked The Blue Sword better, I think because it feels more grounded in some sort of reality instead of being mythic. (...not that "grounded" is a thing that can really be used to describe the feel of any McKinley books. She's great at including details that seem like they OUGHT to be grounding, and yet her books always feel dreamy and distant. It's weird.)

So I've reread The Blue Sword a lot more often, and tbh I think this may only be the second or third time I've ever read The Hero and the Crown. ("Only", they say. There are some people who never reread books! Apparently. Baffling.)

I felt that this book has a bit of a slow start to it, possibly because it starts with the ridiculous cliche of clumsy outcast king's daughter with red hair who wants to be a warrior. Eventually we get beyond the cliches into actually interesting territory but it takes a bit. (Though - it's possible this was less of a cliche when this book was written? It is more than three decades old at this point!)

Aerin, our main character, eventually becomes a hero and a dragon-slayer. I like that the structure of the book kind of comes in three parts in terms of her increasingly-difficult conquests - first the common little dragons, then the great black dragon Maur, and then her evil Northern witch uncle Agsded. A good traditional story shape.

I think the book is at its strongest when it's describing Aerin's slow painful progress in not-dying after she kills Maur. It's remarkably visceral and riveting and full of painful truth.

The confrontation with Agsded, by comparison, feels lik a let-down - Agsded is supposed to be to Maur as Maur was to the little dragons, and it just doesn't feel like that. Oh, it's dreadfully hard, certainly, but it feels less real, and I never got the feeling that she might fail or die, unlike with Maur. And then after the defeat of Agsded, Maur still needs to be defeated a second time, in the person of the evil miasma from his severed head in the capital city! Maur just feels like way more of a challenging and threatening nemesis than Agsded, so the whole thing with Asgded just doesn't really work for me.

Another frustration I have with the book is less with this book on its own, and more a pattern between this book and the other Damar book. Both books take place in a country where the native population is darker-skinned. And both books feature a protagonist who is at least half white, who saves the day for the darker-skinned people. (And Luthe, the mysterious magical semi-immortal person who acts as something of a mentor/teacher/aid for both protagonists, is implied to be fully white.) This is...not a comfortable dynamic. Hello white saviour trope! It's even worse in The Blue Sword since the protagonist in that one is a member of the culture/race who are at the time occupying Damar, in a clear parallel of England's imperialism...

But overall I did enjoy this book a lot more than I thought I would based on my faded remembrances of it.

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