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Over the last week, I read The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, who is one of my favorite authors. My favorite books by her are actually Sunshine, Dragonhaven and Chalice. And I keep meaning to read Pegasus, but I haven’t found time yet. And it isn’t at my library.

Subject at hand, Hero and the Crown and Blue Sword. Both books take place in Damar, a land that McKinley created. What is interesting is that Hero is first, chronologically, but she wrote and published Blue Sword first.

The Hero and the Crown is about Aerin, who is a legend and a hero from The Blue Sword. She is the only child of the King of Damar, a girl and she doesn’t have a drop of kelar, which is a kind of magic that the royals have. Aerin works to carve out her own destiny, because she is so different and so cut-off from the rest of her family and from her people. She learns sword-fighting and horseback riding and heads out to kill the small dragons that plague Damar. However, killing these dragons doesn’t really bring her honor.

The story flips around, going back over Aerin’s self-training and dragon-slaying. Later in the story, she does go out a slay one of the big dragons, Maur, and his head is brought back to the palace and Aerin has difficulties recovering from the battle and her destiny isn’t complete yet. On top of Aerin’s personal troubles, Damar is also having trouble with the neighbor to the North, whose occupants aren’t entirely human and have more kelar than the Damarians. She leaves and her father remains to try to fight the North.  

The Hero and the Sword hits several major events and is tied together mainly by the tension between Aerin and the other Damarians. However, The Blue Sword is a fairly consistent tale about Harry, a displaced Homelander. Homelanders have slowly taken over most of a continent they call Daria, which is Damar. There are parts of the continent that the Homelanders can’t conquer and the old Damarians still live there.

Harry is different from other Homelanders and after her father’s death, she is sent to Istan outpost where her older brother is stationed. While there, some of the Damarians visit, including the king, Corlath. His kelar activates at the sight of Harry and he goes back and takes her back to Damar with him. Harry is treated like a prisoner with honor and eventually, taught how to ride, fight and use her kelar like a Damarian. She becomes a female hero, able to carry the Blue Sword, like Aerin.

Having read both, I like Blue Sword better. I can follow Harry’s story better than Aerin’s, mainly because Harry’s is more chronological. However, similar to Diane and Numair in The Immortals, there is a romance between Harry and Corlath that springs from no where. Even going back and re-reading the book sheds no light on the subject. It seemed like it was just a logical place for the two characters to go and have the story have a happy ending. But it didn’t feel natural.

And I know I leave a lot out of this, but it’s more interesting to read the two books and see how they fill in the gaps of each other. The Hero and the Crown goes back and explains the Damarians riding style, the kelar, the legend of Aerin and several other little items that aren’t entirely explained in The Blue Sword. While they could each stand on their own, they work much better as a unit.

I still like Blue Sword better though.