Beauty was Robin McKinley’s first novel. Her descriptions are so vivid that one can immediately conjure up visions of Beauty, the Beast, the castle, and the enchanted forest. McKinley also develops complex characters with genuine strengths and weaknesses. For example, her depiction of the journey from the city to the country examines the difficulties encountered by formerly wealthy people who have been accustomed to having servants and who now must adjust to doing everything themselves.
Love and romance, the young adult’s struggle for identity and self-esteem, and strong-willed female protagonists can also be found in McKinley’s first two original novels. The Blue Sword (1982), set in the mythical desert kingdom of Damar, features Harry Crewe, a courageous woman trained to be a warrior who will save the kingdom. The Hero and the Crown (1984) is a “prequel” to The Blue Sword. Aerin, an ancestor of Harry, is shy and clumsy, but courageous, independent, and stubborn. She is invested with the Blue Sword by a wizard, who has trained her to be a warrior to lead the Damarians in battle. The Blue Sword was a Newbery Honor Book in 1983, and The Hero and the Crown received the Newbery Medal in 1985.