5 out of 5 stars
If I had a daughter, this is the book I would introduce to her the fantasy genre with. There are no preconceived notions of gender here. The main character, Aerin, is never told once that she cannot do something because she is a woman. Not by her father, not by any love interests and not by any of the people in her kingdom.
You see Aerin is a princess. Her father is a beloved king who fell in love with a woman from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the main reason that Aerin gets any grief whatsoever about who she is. The people of her kingdom don’t trust a woman with witch blood in her veins. To them, it is this blood that stunts her from coming into her true power. Royal blood begets special powers and Aerin has none. But dark times are ahead and Aerin will do whatever she can to help save her people, regardless of what they think of her.
So what’s a lass to do? First, you have your cousin train you in swords. Then, you befriend your father’s cranky former warhorse who hates everyone. Talat, was the greatest warhorse the lands had seen but a battle injury put him out to field. With time and dedication, Aerin wins his trust and love and slowly nurses him back to health. His ankle will never be the same but Aerin recognizes his limits and his dignity. They form a bond and become inseparable, Talat will quite literally walk through dragonfire for her.
Third, you crack out the herbs and set to work experimenting on a concoction that will supposedly protect the wearer from dragonfire. Fourth, you practice battling dragons on the little ones that harass the local villages, slowly changing people’s opinions of you. Of course, eventually you’ll have to have a go at the larger ones too.
That is only the tip of the iceberg of Aerin’s adventures. That is merely the process in which she begins to change her life and help the people of her kingdom.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before with so little dialogue that was still so good. The battle scenes frequently gave me shivers. Robin McKinley knows how to write true romance, using real men and killer one liners.
The only part that I would not want my daughter to pick up on?
It’s hard to avoid that in both history and epic fantasy.