What can I say? I loved it. After I finished it, I was completely unable to close it. I had to fight the urge to flip back to page one and start it all over again. Although I finished it several days ago, I keep sneaking it out of my library book basket to reread some of my favorite parts. It's also caused me to reread large chunks of The Blue Sword, searching for any mention of Aerin, Tor, and Luthe.
This is a brilliant book! Since it's a prequel to The Blue Sword and details Aerin's story (which is mentioned often in The Blue Sword), I thought I had some idea of what was going to happen and how it would end, but I was surprised over and over again. The execution is flawless and the plot is character-driven. I felt like I really knew Aerin and identified with her. I loved Harry of course, and I think that The Blue Sword is the best give-a-girl-a-sword book I've ever read, but Hero and the Crown held more emotional depth for me. Aerin is a little more vulnerable and uncertain of herself than Harry ever was, and as much as I'd like to be like Harry, I'm really more like Aerin. I can't believe I have never read this book before! I'm in mourning right now for all 28 of the past years I've lived without having read this book. It is, in my opinion, Robin McKinley's magnum opus.
If you're looking for adventure, magic, coming-of-age, an awesome female protagonist, romance (although I'm warning you now that there are some unexpected twists and turns in this department - some of which had me tearing up and/or slamming the book shut in frustration), lyrical writing, and overall brilliant fantasy, The Hero and the Crown is a must-read.