There are a lot of things in the book which in the hands of a less skilled writer would have made to book sink into angst and Mary Sue-dom. McKinley manages to avoid them quite stylishly. Even though the book doesn’t contain the kinds of porn (both sexual and violent, both equally unnecessary and explicit) that today almost every (fantasy) book needs to be labelled adult, I’d still hesitate to call it a YA. There’re no real teenager-growing-up bits.

Aerin could have been a whiny Mary Sue: she’s the daughter of the king’s second wife who is whispered to have been a witch and therefore she isn’t accepted by anyone except by her father and her cousin who happens to be the second highest born male in the country. Because the people won’t accept her, the king can’t make her an heir even though she’s his only child. So she grows up almost friendless in the confines of the castle. Her only real friend turns out to be Talat, the king’s maimed warhorse.

McKinley manages to make her a sympathetic character and during the most of the book I got a feeling of melancholy from her. True, she is first special-in-reverse because she can’t do the magic that all the other nobles can, and there are a couple of bully characters out to get her, but they don’t really feel annoying. Her, uh, speciallness was starting to grate a tiny bit towards the end of the book but it still felt totally in-character and fit in the world. Although Talat is more than a bit more intelligent than a horse can be.

The book starts with a few chapters in the present where the king and his men are preparing to ride to confront demonic mischief in the North and Aerin wants to join her. She’s taunted at being the Dragon-Killer and denied a place in the war party. Then we get a bunch of flashback chapters of her life and then the story proceeds from the current time.

While I’m not a fan of flashbacks, the structure worked quite well in this book. I quite liked the end and Luthe, too.

Oh yes, the dragons. Almost all of the dragons in this book are knee-high vermins who can breathe fire. Their killing is not a glamorous work and therefore Aerin is basically called rat-killer. That’s the first time I’ve seen that kind of dragons. Of course, there has to be at least one big dragon but that it’s to be expected. That was handled very well, too, and I especially liked what came afterwards because very often in fantasy books the aftermaths of battles are nonexistent.