The Hero and The Crown (1984) by Robin McKinley follows the story of Aerin. Born of the king by a norther witchwoman, she's a redhead in a world of cinnamon skinned people. Even so, she is the daughter of the king, and great thing lie before them if she can survive the trials that they pose.
This is very much a coming of age novel, spread across five years of Aerin's life. It's a little bit of a romance, but not enough to categorize it as a romance.
I'd love to be wild about the novel. Looking at its list of praises, the novel certainly impressed many people. I'm not one of them. While the writing was there for me, the story wasn't. I found the through thread non-existent. I felt like the story changed three times, each time too early, challenging the writer how to continue the story. I felt like the story ended three times, and because she hadn't hit her word count, she kept the story running for two chapters after that.
Where the story works, it works wonderfully. At many places, the novel make the character very present, especially in relationship to her horse.
Just as often as the novel felt special, it also felt petty and detailed, often regaling us with administrivia rather than story. These stretches killed any sense of energy or endearment. They felt like padding while the writer vamped, doing her best to think of what would happen next.
I felt that the Aerin wound up a bit too special sometimes where she needed no extra specialness, and I feel that she accidentally did the right thing where she really needed more cleverness. Both of these things distanced me from the character. I don't require plausibility from fantasy novels, but I do require agency from heroes when agency matters, rather than hand-waving "somehows" leading to their success. This book had a few too many of them for me.