The Hero and the Crown is Palmer's favorite kid-book, which is why I read it. I read The Blue Sword first because there was some confusion which of the two is actually his favorite. Here's why: both were written by Robin McKinley, whowrote The Blue Sword first, but The Hero and the Crown is its prequel. I'm glad, though, that I (kind of) read them in the wrong order because The Hero and the Crown is so much better. I really, really enjoyed it.
This one's about Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. She's a bit of an outsider because her mother was a commoner from the (evilish) North, and lots of the citizens consider her mother, now dead, a "witchwoman," and think some sort of evil rubbed off on Aerin. Tor, a cousin, is slated to become king, and he is in love with Aerin, who keeps getting into trouble. She befriends and rehabilitates her father's lame warhorse and investigates an ancient ointment that protects the wearer from fire, then runs off to fight dragons (which are about the size of dogs but much more dangerous). Her father is having problems with the Northerners, and while he goes off to battle, she kills the last of the giant dragons, Maur, and is seriously injured. As she lays in bed dying, she dreams about a silver lake and a blond-haired man who says he can help her. She musters her strength and makes it to the lake, where she meets Luthe, who saves her but also makes her "not quite mortal," and once she is well, she travels to fight her uncle in a tall black tower. Then more stuff happens.
It appears that McKinley has taken care of some of her style issues that made The Blue Sword seem sooooo long. The Hero and the Crown flew by, and I found myself wishing there was more. There's a scene about three-quarters through the book in which Aerin is climbing up an amazingly long flight of stairs, but we only find out later that it's taken her thousands of years. McKinley made it seem like a couple hours. But there was less awkward language, and it was an easier, more pleasant read. I wish she'd write more in this series.