Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pegasus by Robin Mckinley, a Book Review

Last year, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to Robin McKinley's Pegasus(1). The short version of the review: It was worth looking forward to. Now I'm looking forward even more to the sequel.

The book's basic premise is that the humans of Balsinland formed a mutual-protection pact with the pegasi long ago, at the kingdom's founding. Ever since, high-ranking humans have bonded with high-ranking pegasi. Generally, this is a formal matter; the pegasi visit occasionally, on state occasions, and specially trained court magicians provide translations between the two races. Everyone is shocked when they find that Sylviianel, the human princess, and Ebon, the pegasus prince, can speak to one another clearly, without translators, and that they are not just formal acquaintances but friends.

I admit, in addition to my anticipation, I was a little worried: Some of the official descriptions and blurbs made it sound a little... silly. A princess and a pegasus with a special close bond? Riiight.

I need not have worried, even a little bit. This is Robin McKinley we're talking about. In a McKinley book, being a princess means dealing with a whole host of responsibilities. Having a special bond with your pegasus means having to explain to everyone why you're different, having to worry about court magicians who see their status threatened by the difference, and always fighting the niggling worry that someone will decide the friendship is too close and you should be separated for your own good.

In short, Sylviianel's position and her gift is not glamorous or comfortable. It has its compensations, but they are of a down to earth variety rather than the sparkles and hearts kind. Sylviianel and Ebon become close friends, they share a sense of humor, and Ebon takes Sylviianel flying when they think they can get away with it unspotted--despite the cautious approval both sets of royal parents given their friendship, both are pretty sure Sylviianel isn't really supposed to ride Ebon.

Oh, and that mutual protection pact? Pegasi are not the only intelligent, magical beings out there. There are nastier sorts, like rocs and norindours (Actually, I'm not sure the norindours are intelligent; the rocs certainly are), and they are attacking. This means that, as things get worse Sylviianel's beloved older brothers and her mother spend more and more time away, fighting, and she adds worry about them to her other concerns.

It is a McKinley book, so the emphasis is not on the action. A lot of time is spent exploring the pegasus and Balislander cultures as Syl becomes the first human ever to visit the pegasus home.

Pegasus holds world rich in magic and with multiple, interesting cultures. I really appreciated the depth of the cultures and the interpersonal relationships. Ebon and Sylvi are believable as friends, both Sylvi's and Ebon's family have close bonds and read well as families. Also, it has a lot of myth, and I love expanding myths.

Minor complaints: Most of the cultural explanations came easily as part of the plot. Occasionally, however, there was a "Sylvi and Ebon in the schoolroom" dump. I was more troubled by the length of time it took me to decide whether or not rocs were, in fact, intelligent, and by a single aspect of roc culture (rocs never lie) that "everyone" knew and which became important toward the end of the book--just after the readers were finally informed of this. It didn't spoil the book, but I'd have liked to have seen this mentioned earlier. This is a minor matter, however, in an otherwise excellent book.

Overall, Pegasus is a very good first half of a book, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the second half--soon, I hope!

(1) The timing of the book review reflects holiday busy-ness and bad colds, not the timing of the reading. I have a terrible backlog of book reviews now!


  1. I'm so eager to get my hands on this book, now! McKinley sometimes lets me down, but this sounds like one of the ones I'll really like.

  2. I felt like this was way less infodumpy than a lot of McKinley's other books, so I was okay with the schoolroom parts. Not like, say, Dragonhaven.

  3. Dragonhaven, though fun and certainly rereadable, is one of my least-favorite McKinley books. It felt more like she wanted to experiment with a story about dragons and what life with them would "really" be like than that there was a story that needed telling or characters she had particularly fallen in love with and wanted to introduce to us.

    Come to think of it, some elements of it probably paved the way for elements of Pegasus--especially the difficulty of the bond and the difficult interface between two cultures.