I don't get to do much rereading; it used to be one of my favorite things, but now that they've invented the internet, I know way more about what's coming out ahead of time, and now that I have an e-reader, I get my hands on things fast, and there's just no stopping me.
But Open Road Media has rereleased Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, and they generously gave me a review copy. I've wanted to reread this specific book for a while; I had pulled my paperback out of wherever it was hiding and put it on my "active" shelf. Synchronicity.
Have you read this book? I remember loving it, and finding it a little confusing, but that was true of a lot of things I read as a teenager. Since then, I've read a lot more Robin McKinley and developed a very clear sense of her writing style--it's very high fantasy, with archaic sentence construction and a great deal of royal formality. There is a lot more explanation of what takes place than there is dialog or scenes unfolding; it is as if the author is writing you a letter explaining what happened, in plenty of detail and appropriately paced, but with circumstances often explained in summary.
This sounds bad; it's not. She pulls it off. A full 80% of this book was absolutely wonderful as I'd remembered it. And the confusing part...was still confusing.
But now I understand why it's confusing, and I can explain it. The first half of the book is about Aerin not fitting in. She's the king's daughter, but she's different from her family--her mother was a foreigner, a witch-woman, and Aerin shows no sign of the powers that run in the royal family. She has only one friend, her older cousin Tor, and she's tormented by her other cousins. She spends a lot of time with her father's old out-to-pasture horse, and reading.
She starts to find a place for herself when she makes herself a dragon-killer--though the only dragons that are still in the kingdom of Damar are small, they're dangerous, and she learns to fight them and finally become useful. But when the Great Dragon awakes--unheard of for hundreds of years--she is overmatched.
So that's the first half of the book, and it's sooooo good. It's about insecurity, and how it can keep you separate from people who love and cherish you, and it's about finding yourself, and it's full of good details about how Aerin struggles to shape a life that fits both her and the world she belongs to but doesn't belong to.
Then the book changes, and she goes on a quest. And she learns more about herself, and that maybe there are other places where she might fit, and that's excellent.
And then. And then there's this weird interlude where she has to face a Big Bad Guy, and this part reads like an odd fairy tale, and I could nitpick why this part bothered me, but mostly it's because it comes out of nowhere and is like a long dream sequence, which really removes a lot of the menace and immediacy. The bare facts of the incident are effective, but I found it more confusing than anything else, almost like a page that tied in from another book and had to read a certain way to match the facts.
And then, after this, we go back to the story we were reading, where the two parts of Aerin--the one that belongs to Damar and the one that does not--have to find a way to live with each other, and to find a life that works for her.
So you've got more than half of a very good book, a weird little fourth act, and then a really lovely, satisfying ending. And it's enough--I love this book, and I love Aerin and Tor and Luthe and Arlberth and Teka and Talat, and I love to hate Galenna. It's beautiful, and if it's still a little confusing, I would take twice the confusion for another dozen pages, for an epilogue one hundred years later.
Which is probably why I now need to go reread The Blue Sword.