Reviewed February 6, 2011.
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2010. 404 pages.
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Teen Fantasy and Science Fiction
Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors, so I was delighted when I heard she had another book coming out, and preordered it immediately. I was not a bit disappointed -- well, except that this book is only Part One of a two-part story, and I will have to wait a year to get to read the conclusion. However, I will enjoy the excuse to read Part One several times before the second part comes out.
Robin McKinley is an amazingly skilled world-builder. She draws you in and makes it all seem real. Here is how Pegasus begins:
Because she was a princess she had a pegasus.
This had been a part of the treaty between the pegasi and the human invaders nearly a thousand years ago, shortly after humans had first struggled through the mountain passes beyond the wild lands and discovered a beautiful green country they knew immediately they wanted to live in.
The beautiful green country was at that time badly overrun by ladons and wyverns, taralians and norindours, which ate almost everything (including each other) but liked pegasi best. The pegasi were a peaceful people and no match, despite their greater intelligence, for the single-minded ferocity of their enemies, and over the years their numbers had declined. But they were tied to these mountains and valleys by particular qualities in the soil and the grasses that grew in the soil, which allowed their wings to grow strong enough to bear them in the air. They had ignored the situation as without remedy for some generations, but the current pegasus king knew he was looking at a very bleak future for his people when the first human soldiers straggled, gasping, through the Dravalu Pass and collapsed on the greensward under the Singing Yew, which was old even then.
The pegasi and the humans made a treaty, and the humans fought off the beasts that were preying on the pegasi. Now, generations later, the members of both species' royal families are bound together, to keep the treaty strong. Humans are not able to communicate with pegasi, except with the help of magicians and pegasus shamans.
But then Sylvi bonds with Ebon, the fourth child of the pegasus king. And right from the start, they can hear each other's thoughts.
One might think this was a good thing. But such a thing has never happened before, and the magicians are upset. When norindours and taralians begin making incursions into the country, they blame this "unnatural" bond.
In many ways, this is about a cross-cultural friendship. Sylvi learns more about the lives of the pegasi than any human has ever known. She and Ebon are inseparable -- or so she thinks.
Robin McKinley weaves a spell in this book. It all seems real, and the things we learn about pegasus culture fit with the physical details we're given about them. Their small hands are very weak, so their work is tremendously delicate, for example. When Sylvi gets to see art created by the pegasi, we appreciate that this is something entirely different from anything a human would ever make. We experience it with her.
Again, my only complaint is that the story is not finished. And this volume ends at a terrible place for Ebon and Sylvi. It's hard to wait for the conclusion, but meanwhile, I'm so glad I've gotten to be transported to this magical world.