The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is another old favorite of mine. This time, I decided to listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Roslyn Alexander.
Aerin is the daughter of the king of Damar -- but by his second wife, a woman who was widely distrusted and whom many suspected of witchcraft. Aerin herself is looked down on by most of the royal court, even when she discovers a fireproofing ointment that enables her to slay dragons with less chance of personal injury. Dragons, after all, are vermin, and though they can be fierce, none of them grow much larger than a dog in Aerin's day. The Great Dragons are considered creatures of legend . . . until the day that one of them appears. Maur, the last of the Great Dragons, awoken by malicious Northern magic, returns to terrorize Damar -- and Aerin may be the only person who can face him. Even if she can defeat Maur, she will have to face greater and more dangerous challenges before she can take her rightful place in Damar.
This is probably my second-favorite McKinley book (after Beauty). Aerin is a great, complex character -- she consistently undervalues herself, but that doesn't stop her from attempting heroic action, not for the glory of it, but because it's a dirty job that someone has to do. The romance in the story, not to give too much away, is likewise complex. And, though the story is pretty tightly focused on Aerin, secondary characters (even the unlikeable ones) get their moments of poignance and character development.
As for the audio version . . . it was all right. The narration was not distracting (in the way that really bad narration can be), but neither did it stand out in a positive way. I listened to The Blue Sword earlier this year, and though two different narrators read the two books, they have a very similar sound. In both cases, I'd recommend reading the books, rather than listening to them.
(Reviewed from an audiobook borrowed through my library system.)