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Backlist Obsession: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Back in June, I mentioned in my How I Got to Greenwillow post that I took it as a good sign when Phyllis gave me a copy of Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter at the end of my second interview. What I didn’t say in that post was that I took it as a good sign because Robin McKinley was one of my Most Favorite Authors Ever, and had been since I discovered Beauty back in sixth grade. Beauty went with me to college (and home every summer and back to college), it went with me to England during the year I studied there, and it has come with me to four Brooklyn apartments.


The Robin McKinley section of my bookshelves in my apartment

So, I knew that I wanted to pick one of Robin’s books when it was my turn for a backlist obsession. But which one? Rose Daughter, which I have fond memories of reading in Central Park while in the Shakespeare in the Park line and has a lovely ending? The Blue Sword, which first introduced me to the land of Damar? Outlaws of Sherwood, the retelling of Robin Hood with a perfect maid Marian?

Greenwillow "Robin McKinley"No, I have to go with The Hero and the Crown. Aerin is everything I could wish in a heroine: she has such pure, fierce determination, honest self-doubt and uncertainty, and incredible loyalty and love for those she cares about. And The Hero and the Crown has so much more besides Aerin, too. The adventure, the battles, the high stakes, the magic that comes at a cost. Talat, her horse, who is one of the best animal companions in all of teen literature, in my opinion. (Greatheart from Beauty may be the only one who tops him, if you ask me.) Tor, Aerin’s best friend and prince. And Luthe, the ageless seer, whom Aerin also loves.

Okay, it may be Luthe who makes this my backlist obsession. There is a scene in The Hero and the Crown between Luthe and Aerin that always comes to mind when I think of my favorite scenes in books. I don’t want to spoil too much in case some of you haven’t read it yet. (Are you crazy? Go and get it right now!) But it includes this exchange:

“I shall practice them—while—I shall practice, that I may dazzle you when next we meet.”
There was a little silence, and Luthe said, “You need not try to dazzle me.”

And then at the end of that scene, Luthe lies on the ground and listens to Talat’s hoofbeats carrying her away.


That’s how it felt to read that scene the first time, and every time I’ve re-read the book since. I have a big soft spot for romance, and also for hard, possibly heartbreaking choices. Combine those two and I’m left breathless. And the writing in the whole book, and this scene in particular, is so understated. What’s left unsaid is just as important as what’s said. So many currents run beneath what we see, and how the characters act. It’s so powerful and rich. And perfect.

Which is why it’s one of my top recommendations to friends, relatives, and pretty much anyone who will listen. And . . . yep, I think I might be due for a re-read myself.


  1. Sarah Dotts Barley says:

    This is my most favorite book ever!!!

  2. Mary Lawrence says:

    It’s been 20 years since I read it. I’ll have to reread!

  3. Chachic says:

    Can I just say that I love your bookshelf? It has so many of my own favorites! The Hero and the Crown is a lovely book and I recommend it to everyone. I love Robin McKinley. :)

  4. ArtSeblis says:

    I’m so happy to find someone who found that particular scene very powerful. Not only my heart broke but I think my entire world cracked also when I read that passage for the first time. Until now, I still imagine Luthe, waiting, waiting for Aerin to finally outlive her human loves and responsibilities and go to him. So right you are, POW.

  5. janicu says:

    Ha! Chachic – I was eying her bookshelf and nodding in approval too!

    I think THE HERO AND THE CROWN kind of bowled me over as a teen – a girl as the hero, off to battle dragons. I found her so intense. Man, I think I’m due for a McKinley reread marathon.

  6. CLM says:

    Also love that scene with Luthe! Tried to describe it once to someone who looked at me blankly; it is nice to think someone else feels the same way.

    ps – used to work at Avon/Morrow before it was owned by Harper and miss my access to those Greenwillow books!

  7. Hana says:

    Just read Hero and the Crown. Am I late or what? The book moved me so much Aerin and Luthe have made it to my list of OTPs. I know some people find Luthe and Aerin’s relationship too sudden, queer, and unfair to Tor, but I do understand Aerin’s concept of “having two fates” with one having to wait the other out. That is some heartbreaking stuff!

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