Review: Pegasus

Posted: December 7, 2010 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Robin McKinley, Fantasy

I know what you’re thinking: “This is a girlie book.” Your first impression of the cover/title may be justified, but at the same time it doesn’t fully describe the depth of the setting and characters of PEGASUS (Amazon), this is more than a fairytale.

When a member of the royal family reaches twelve years of age they are bound to their own pegasus. Princess Sylvi’s birthday is coming up soon, but she’s ambivalent about the event, even if it means binding herself to one of the gloriously lovely pegasi. This is because the process involves the most dreaded of people to Sylvi… magicians.

Humans and pegasi have been allies ever since the humans first came to their valley centuries ago, and the humans were allowed to settle in peace in exchange for fighting off the pegasi’s enemies. But the ability of the species to communicate with each other has been spotty at best, the bound royalty relying on magicians to help them communicate with their beautiful animal counterparts.

Until Sylvi and her bound pegasus Ebon show that perfect telepathy between the species is possible. Unfortunately, this creates more enemies than rejoicing. The magician’s guild warns that it’s unnatural and dangerous for a bound human and pegasi to be able to speak with each other without a magician intermediary. But it’s hard to imagine that the innocent Sylvi and Ebon are doing anything wrong.

Robin McKinley returns in fine form with PEGASUS, a coming-of-age story that will appeal to Middle Grade and Young Adult readers, and even adults who enjoy charming fairytales. It’s not unlike her BEAUTY (Amazon) and DRAGONHAVEN (Amazon), and fans of McKinley’s lovely prose and subtle storytelling won’t be disappointed.

When a member of the royal family turns 12 they are bound to their own pegasus. Princess Sylvi's birthday is coming, but she's ambivalent about the event in PEGASUS.

Told from young Sylvi’s PoV, we get a sense early on of the kind of girl she is, her relationship with her family, and her perceptions about the society she lives in. She’s both excited and scared about the prospect of having her own pegasus, but her biggest surprise is that Ebon brings great joy and fulfillment in her life. I enjoyed the dynamic between Sylvi’s family, particularly her father the king, and how he parents her like any father would, regardless of his station. Where it falls flat is the villain magician Fthoom, whose motives are more formulaic than realistic. Despite that problem, it’s Sylvi and Ebon’s bond and the clash of the two cultures that make this story worth reading.

PEGASUS explores the questions of why pegasi and humans cannot communicate better, and how Sylvi and Ebon’s bond questions humans’ acceptance of the ‘way things are’. The pegasi are a species apart, and their differences from humans are emphasized, such as attitudes and their magic. The differences in magical abilities in humans and pegasi are clear and affect their respective cultures, even if the details are sketchy about how each exactly works. Particularly interesting are the pegasi ‘hands’ that are weak and fragile and because of this the pegasi admire human wrists and strong fingers. These pegasi aren’t the usual romantic horse-like creatures from standard mythic fare; instead they’re more like small winged deer, and much more intelligent. McKinley approaches the pegasi with a more ‘scientific’ perspective, creating a culture and magic that fit the way they live and think. We see a great deal of each culture and their history–but I get the sense that most of what we learn in PEGAGUS won’t become really important to the plot until the next book.

PEGASUS is told in a mostly chronological fashion, but it’s sprinkled liberally with flashbacks and expository, which is part of McKinley’s usual rambling style. If you can get past the first chapter’s tedious back-story, the story does finally take off. There’s plenty of world-building and character development, which are McKinley’s strengths, but the style and light action sets the pace, which is leisurely.

PEGASUS reminds me of DRAGONHAVEN, with the same theme of the difficulties inherent in communicating with another species, but the fearless inexperience of children will overcome hurdles. However, plenty of McKinley’s usually avid readers didn’t like DRAGONHAVEN because of its first person almost stream-of-consciousness narrative. PEGASUS, however, isn’t written like DRAGONHAVEN; the setting is more ambitious, the prose and characters are more charming.

PEGASUS is the first in a duology, which made me curious because McKinley is an avowed standalone author; but in her words, she says PEGASUS is just one long book that had to be broken up. Series or not, the abrupt ending provides no clear resolution–not even a proper cliffhanger–instead setting the stage for the ‘sequel’. But was this novel enough to get me to want the read the next novel? Oh, yes. If anything, McKinley knows how to spin a good yarn and having already spent 400 pages to get the story warmed up, I anticipate a spectacular continuation.

  • Recommended Age: 6+
  • Language: None
  • Violence: Mild peril
  • Sex: Nope

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