The Hero and the Crown - Robin McKinley There is so much to say about this book that I don't think I know how I can say it all. Let me begin by this: This book, though it is a fantasy book, rises far above the stories of fantasy that I have read and stands alone almost as none of the others do. In comparison to this, you expect half-rate fantasies with some romance thrown in like Island and the Ring by Laura C. Stevenson which I reviewed prior to this. But no, instead you have a cast of living, breathing characters that stand so starkly before you that you can sense how real they are. They are each unique, and from the smallest quips they make to the trifling desires that are revealed in various characters, you immediately understand that there is a living and breathing web of a world here that you've walked into. People here have their own initiatives and whether annoying (Ahem, Galanna~) or a wonderful relief (Heh, Tor~), you've found yourself instantly in the midst of a tale with enough power to provoke thinking and emotional reactions.

Now for the author: Robin McKinley. I have never read any of her other books, but when I read this book in the 7th Grade, so many years ago, this is the book that stood out to me from among the crowd. This is the book that showed me the power of being a true female character, one who could lead and stand on her own as well, with nothing to support her but what she found or chose for herself. That character, Aerin, is by far the most singular and fantastic female lead I have ever followed in any book I've read, and considering the amount of books I've read, that's saying quite a bit. My best friend, who has read more of McKinley's stories than I have, tells me that it's not just this book--it's not the settings, not the plot, not anything else that you would expect to make a character superb. It's a gift that McKinley has either acquired over time, or knew and claimed the moment she began creating stories. Because Aerin is a character that's not wishy-washy. She is stubborn, but logical. She cares about things that aren't superficial, fleeting, or just plain idiotic! She's a girl, for lack of putting it in a better way, that is a TRUE tomboy! But. Without losing her feminine qualities either. You could almost say she's more unaware of the normal girly things, or doesn't pay them much mind until they smack her right in the face. *Smiles* To some extent, you could also say she just chooses to wait until the time when her priorities shift and she decides to address them then. I like that about a girl: that she's not going to spend every waking moment panting desperately after boys or looking pretty and other second-rate "desires."

But in the end, I still feel like I'm not doing this book justice! My review PALES horribly in comparison to this book! It's an adventure. It's a journey! It's a story that you fall into the moment you open the book and begin reading. It's difficult to put down! It's got the perfect balance of romance and serious issues like battle, the kingdom, and getting revenge on Galanna! *Laughs* It's cheerful, humorous, but filled with a lot of conflicting situations that attack and bring up a person's self-worth: as a girl, as an heir, as a tomboy, as someone trying to make a name for themselves, as someone trying to find their place in the world, as someone trying to do something to just be doing something different! It's a story of finding yourself, balanced beautifully by the main character who grows out of her clumsiness and into a person who is herself and yet refined. *Smiles*

It's also a story of love... and a love unlike any other I have been introduced to. I remember my friend once said, when I told her that I truly and deeply loved people, at the same time, that I was essentially wrong, that she didn't understand how it could be possible; that you cannot love two people at the same time. All these years later, I have to say... I agree with her. To love someone is an active action. You have to put in effort. And it has to be continuous if not constant. *Pauses* Knowing that to be true, I remember being torn apart by the fact that Aerin, in this book, has two love interests. Both of whom are amazing. Both of whom I would love for her to end up with. And both of them love her in return.... I remember thinking, "How? How is this going to be possible? I love them both! I don't know which one I want more! All I know is that she cares about them both, they care about her, and yet she can't be with both! How is this going to happen?! I don't want them to be hurt...." *Smiles deeply* ...yet somehow, perfectly, Robin McKinley was able to work this out for me. She was... able to give everyone what they wanted, in a way that... *Pauses and hugs her!* In a way that gave me the ultimate hope! That I can love others, in the way I love characters and friends and so, so much more. But I must make sure that those I love will give me that, that I am not hurting them. That my love is free to give, but that I make sure I do not hurt those I love in the way I love. She gave us the best ending here... and it filled me with joy! *Laughs*

Throughout this entire review, I feel like I've been bumbling dumbly. *Shakes her head* McKinley's book leaves me speechless. The characters are wonderful and so easy to get close to. The situations, even though they're in a fantasy world, are swiftly understood and related to. The characters not only speak their minds, but you know their thoughts, and you can follow their desires. This brings them to life. The plot is winding and unusual, but not confusing. In fact, I love all the unexpected turns it takes, and with characters like this to care for and adore, you find yourself willing to chase it down and go along with it. And on top of everything else... this is a fantasy that is realistic. From the battle scenes, to the issues of death and despair, to childish actions and romance and kingly ordeals. Everything is so well-balanced that it becomes believable, and makes our love for this story all the greater. Because instead of wonder and amazement, you're more liable to be taking sides and venting about how this one scene made you squee your head off! Or how that character makes you want to throw a rock at their head!

Bah. Even at the end, I feel I've fallen so short of this book's fun, insightful, emotive, and realistically creative tale. The only thing I can say is that if I had to choose maybe five books to bring with me on a deserted island, this would be one of them. *Smiles* That's how epic it is. Don't take my word for it though. Go and GET this book. Read it! Because I can't imagine anyone not loving it. <3