The Hero and the Crown follows Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. Damar is an enchanted fantasy land, complete with witches, dragons, long-lost magics, and hidden destinies. As the daughter of the king's second wife, a woman believed by many to be an evil enchantress, Aerin is ostracized by the court and loathed by the people. She doesn't let this bother her much. She has bigger problems, after all -- namely, dragons. Damar is slowly being invaded by an unnamed, mysterious evil and, with that evil, dragons are growing in number and attacking villages. There's even word that the wicked black dragon Maur, thought to have been destroyed, may awaken once more to plague the land. And then there's the Hero's Crown -- once relied on to protect the kingdom of Damar but now lost for many long years. Aerin is no ordinary princess. It is her destiny alone to face the encroaching evil, recover the Hero's Crown, and save her people.
Written in the 1980s, McKinley's heroic fantasy story is a refreshing take on the genre, featuring a brave and dedicated female protagonist who does not allow her birthright to prevent her from seeking her destiny. While Aerin is a likable enough character, it is really her animal companions that I find endearing throughout - be it her faithful and stubborn horse or her wild army of feral cats and dogs. There is a standard fantasy love triangle - a trope I tend to find boring - but it's a minor part of the plot that doesn't turn overly sappy. While there are some noticeably weak moments, overall, I really enjoyed it.