The first several times I read THE HERO AND THE CROWN, I really had barely any idea what happened in the whole post-Luthe tower fight (I said deliberately vaguely, on the off chance somebody hasn’t read the book and doesn’t want to be spoiled).
The truth is, I find that a dozen re-reads later, and with full adulthood under my belt, I *still* think that whole section is like a bad acid trip. And I think it’s supposed to be, but honestly I’m *still* not *absolutely* sure what (or perhaps more accurately, *when* it) happens. I feel like I understand it a little better every time I read it, but the last couple times I’ve read it (admittedly years apart) I’ve been trying really hard to pay attention and understand, and still…yah, no, I don’t totally get it. I’m not sure if that’s a failing in me or the book.
(Also, my God, Robin McKinley has an unholy love of semi-colons. I noticed it reading CHALICE, and upon re-reading HERO, it’s clear it’s not a new affliction. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love me some semi-colons, but wow, it’s like she was one of our group of online roleplayers from the early 90s and she never got over the impulse to punctuate with semi-colons. Wow.)
Those things aside, though…well, I still love this book. Not as much as THE BLUE SWORD, which doesn’t have the bad acid trip problem, but Aerin is…well, she’s a broken hero from the start, in a much more significant way, I think, than Harry. Aerin seems more fragile, and her journey that much greater. I rather think that this book plays up the lie of McKinley’s theory that we all have only one story to tell, as there’s certainly no Beast for Beauty to tame in this story (even Aerin’s own demons can’t be argued as the Beast, and she tames nothing save Talat, who does not play the role of Beast :)).
Does anybody know, BTW, if the Tommy and Leo or the black-haired girl who are referenced in HERO are explained further anywhere? I have the vague idea there’s a book of Damarian short stories, but I don’t know which collection it is, if I’m even right about it existing. I know she doesn’t as a rule write sequels, but man, I could do with a lot more stories of Damar. Of Aerin, in particular, of course–about her life after (I said cryptically, but you who’ve read it know what I mean)–but Damar in general, because it really does remain one of my favorite fantasy settings ever.
I noticed with CHALICE and now with re-reading HERO, that McKinley’s storytelling style has an emphasis on telling, but she does it beautifully, and in a way that still brings the emotional impact of the telling to life. She writes, I think, in the way that stories would be presented by an actual storyteller, as if sitting in the darkened cave listening to the tale by flickering firelight. There’s a rhythm to it that seems to me like the cadence of out-loud storytelling, and I think that’s one of the things I particularly love about her books.
Plus this time I noticed the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES homage in HERO, which is awesome. (Oh. Except Ms McKinley, via Twitter, says it was unintentional. Oh well. :))