I knew this one although second in the series, served as a prequel to the first one, telling the history of the blue sword and the story surrounding it. I was a bit hesitant because I loved the characters in the first one so much, I wasn't sure if I wanted to dive back into their world with out them.
The story tells of the princess Aerin, and her journey finding a place among her family, kingdom and people. Being born of the Kings second wife, (who everyone whispered was a witch who be-spelled him) and her mothers untimely death while giving birth to her, Aerin's cruel cousins had plenty to goad her with.
I loved Aerin's determination to be her own woman. I loved her diligence in working hard and fighting for what she believed in, asking the hard questions, even though she knew the answer---but understood that it mattered she even ask them at all. Her perseverance and patience to find just the right amount of ingredients for the dragon formula left me smiling in admiration. Her cousin Tor had my heart from the beginning. And Talat, her galant, stubborn, diva of a steed, or as Luthe would say
---One fat, elderly, self-centered stallion---neighed his way into my heart as well. I also loved Luthe, and his quirky ways.
All this said, I didn't like too much how Aerin all but ignored Tor--or was completely oblivious to him---in the beginning. The whole thing with the black dragon and Maur's head, did a fine job of creeping me out.
I'm sad to say, this one just didn't touch me like The Blue Sword did. I wonder if I were to read this one first and The Blue Sword second, if I would feel differently. But I am happy I read this one, and that I was able to revisit the world of Damar.
She remember little clearly after that; she saw Teka's face bent over hers, and Tor's, and her father's, and others' whom she dimly remembered as the healers who had done her so little good before. She did not know how many days or weeks she spent this way; and then one night she woke again from an especially vivid dream of the blond man.
"You stupid woman---climb off your deathbed while you still can, and come to me."
The words still rang in her ears. She sat up slowly. She drew on her boots, and her leggings and tunic' she picked up the red stone on the table by her bed, and thrust it into the breast of her shirt. She looked at her sword--the king's sword--hanging over her bed, and did not touch it; she fumbled for a cloak, and drew it over her shoulders. She had to sit down on the edge of her bed again and catch her breath.
I must tell them where I am going, she thought. But I don't know where I am going.
PS: if you haven't read Robin McKinley before, and am not used to her style, she tends to wander in her writing. For instance, it might take 2 pages for a character to actually do something, because she'll go off on tangents. But honestly it happens more as a train of thought, and flows with what's happening. It doesn't bother me, (except when I'm not in the mood, and it drives me crazy---which can happen for all authors if your just in one of those moods.) But truth is, Robin McKinley is a fabulous writer, and is one of my favorites.
-The Book Monsters