4-star quick review: The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley)

hero** spoiler alert ** “The Hero and the Crown” is often listed as the Damar book #2, even though it’s a prequel to “The Blue Sword” and requires no knowledge from “The Blue Sword” to enjoy it. And — all respect to “The Blue Sword”, which is a great book, “The Hero and the Crown” is better…for a lot of reasons. Light spoilers below for books which have been out since the late 1980s.

A lot of those reasons have to do with beef I have with “The Blue Sword” which (at its heart) is a story of a white woman who is magically destined to aid an oppressed group of minority people of color. She masters their magics and language in just a few weeks, and then goes on to save everybody against forces she has not even begun to understand. And, in the midst of it all, the king of that oppressed people has fallen in love with her after a little less than a couple of days of conversation (during which she was kidnapped and being held hostage by him), and she falls back in love with him mostly because of a magical compulsion-destiny which dictates that she be more connected to those people. He also gives her a nice room. The book (published in 1987) is an exciting YA romp of a woman who finds the strength to step into the shoes of her destiny, but the more you think about it, a lot of the book gets increasingly “ehhh” in terms of its racial and gender politics.

But do you know which book DOESN’T have any romantic or plot points which hinge on questionable consent, white people showing people of color that they’re better at the oppressed people’s culture, or stockholm syndrome romance? “The Hero and the Crown”! This book surrounding Aerin (also a young woman with a powerful destiny) is a kick-ass girl who is going to save her people from monsters and oppression, whether they want to be saved by a girl or not. With her magical friends, she stands up to dragons, learns prophecies, and becomes a hero so great her legacy lasts for hundreds of years. That said, if you read “The Blue Sword” before you read “Hero and the Crown”, then the stakes often feel pretty low since you already know how the book is going to end (as well as the fates of some of her best friends). But, even with that, it’s a very fun book.

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