Number 98: The Hero and the Crown

It looks like the girl on the rock thinks she's at a kick ass rock concert.

It looks like the girl on the boulder thinks she’s at a kick ass rock concert.

The Hero and the Crown is written by Robin McKinley and was first published in 1984.  This book is the prequel of one of McKinley’s other books The Blue Sword (which is also featured on this top 100 list), both of which won the Newberry Award.  I’m always wary when I see a book has won an award.  I tend to put higher expectations on the book.

So, to get right to the question, does this book deserve to be on the top 100 list? I would say no.  It was a decent book and I deeply appreciated that it wasn’t cliché.  When I first saw this book I imagined it would be about a farm boy that found out he was part of prophecy and then he would slay a dragon and become king and all that.  This book is far from that. It is about a young woman named Aerin, daughter of a king.  She has fiery red hair and isn’t the most beautiful.  She is a part of a prophecy, but it doesn’t seem cliché or forced.  McKinley has created an original and surprising protagonist in Aerin.  It is surprising because this book was written in 1985 and the book does well with avoiding gender stereotypes.  I think if this book were released today it would still be considered a refreshing high fantasy just because of its protagonist.

The problem with this book is that if I hadn’t been forcing myself to take down this top 100 list, I would have quit reading it within the first couple of chapters.  I have a rule that I give a book 50 pages to grip me into the story, if it hasn’t by then then I quit reading.  The first 100 pages of this book were miserable.  For me, at least.  You see, in fantasy, authors tend to go on tangents which divert from the story but they are important for the reader because they provide much needed information or back story for the characters or the plot.  I don’t mind tangents if they are deftly done.  For some reason, my brain can’t handle a long tangent.  I’m distracted by the fact that the original story is at a standstill and I cannot enjoy the story until I am back with that original storyline.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like flashbacks, though I don’t particularly love them, but I do appreciate if an author throws in a well-timed and well written flashback and it is obviously marked and I am sufficiently warned that it is about to happen.  In the first 100 pages of The Hero and the Crown Aerin is in two places.  She is at her windowsill and she is at the stables with her horse.  When she is at her windowsill we get some back story and an  awful lot of names that don’t really go with anyone.  (I probably read 50 or more names in this book and  if I was forced I could probably only list off 10, and that’s being generous).  So after the first 10 pages we find ourselves in the stables with Aerin’s mare, Talat.  As she strokes the mare we get a little back story about how Talat used to be the king’s, but then that tangent snowballs into other stories and we do not get back to the original storyline for 70 pages!  I had a headache trying to force myself to read the story and give a shit about the plot, because all I was thinking was, “when are we going to get back to the original story?!”

After getting back to the story, there was a really interesting dragon slaying and the after effects of it.  It’s one of the best sections of the book.  The whole story was actually fairly original, with three separate climaxes, none of which really made the misery I felt in the first pages worth it.  I’m guessing this book made it on the list because there aren’t very many fantasy books with strong and realistic female protagonists, especially in the 80’s or earlier.  But, I still wish it was better.  The dialogue wasn’t particularly great and none of the characters really stood out, except for Aerin, and also Luthe, who was a young, fair skinned, blonde haired  wizard, which is also an original take on what is usually cliché in fantasy.

The only thing I can really say about its placement on NPR’s list is that I agree it should be toward the bottom, but I would hope that out of the millions of teen books that have been written, that there would be a book better than this one.

Wife: I do not recommend.

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