Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Pegasus by Robin McKinley.

I own everything by McKinley and I love her writing dearly. When I saw she had a new novel coming out over the summer, I knew I was going to have to get it and read it. That's just how it goes with favorite authors. I'm sure you understand.

Not to mention, this book has one of the most beautiful covers that I found myself staring at lovingly. I am a sucker for a beautiful cover, so there was no doubt that I needed to get this book.

I ended up reading it last week when I was in need of some comfort. There was some stuff going on that I need to get my mind off of, so I looked for some welcoming arms in the words of a favorite writer.

McKinley didn't disappoint me.

I'm gong to say from the beginning that McKinley's writing style can be extremely off-putting if you aren't familiar with her. I have read all of her novels and short stories, and pretty much in the order she wrote them (that was unintentional). Over time, her style has developed and she has a very distinct way of writing her tales. And she generally has two types of stories: a revision and alternate view of a much-loved fairy tale, or an original fantasy novel. Usually people love her fairy tale retellings, but I love both.

In Pegasus, she focuses much more on the fantasy aspects, but develops it richly and slowly. There has been talk on Goodreads that she is losing her touch, but I prefer her slow and deep way of building the story. In two of her most recent novels Dragonhaven and Chalice, she did the same gradual build of plot. McKinley takes her time to develop everything. She gives us background details, explanations of history, and true insight into the characters before she brings in the heavy pieces of the plot.

This novel builds from the same approach. At the beginning, the reader knows that Sylvi will be bonded to a pegasus on her 12th birthday. It has been a long ritual that dates back to the days when humans first entered the Pegasus' land. It had been a time of war and the human population saved the Pegasi from invading creatures. To show good will and evidence of their alliance, members of the ruling class are always bonded with a pegasus.

Sylvi is the princess of the humans living in the valley and on her 12th birthday, she is bonded to her pegasus, Ebon. Leading up to this moment, McKinley has us explore the purpose of this whole ritual through papers Sylvi finds in the library as she studies. So when the bonding happens and Sylvi discovers she can speak directly to her pegasus, we know its a big deal. Ever since the beginning, humans and the pegasi have not been able to talk. Instead, each bonded pair relies on a magician to interpret between them. The fact that Sylvi can speak to Ebon and vice versa is what launches the problems in the novel.

The rest of the novel discusses what happens after their bonding. In small flashbacks, Sylvi is fleshed out even more, and the situation the two characters find themselves in is made more serious. The magicians are lurking in the background full of displeasure over what has happened and political turmoil is starting to brew.

But it all travels at McKinley's even pace. She never once rushes the story into the action. Instead, she continues to build the tension and heartache of the characters. She weaves beautiful tales of her fictionalized history and allows the reader to feel like a part of Sylvi and Ebon's bond. She never once preaches or makes the reader feel stupid. Instead, you are a part of the story and you learn as Sylvi learns.

It is well done and beautifully executed, but I can see why it could be so off-putting.

I think many readers are used to writers giving them what they want. If we want action and suspense, we're going to get it. In Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, she keeps up the romantic triangle and the action throughout the entire novel. As the reader, we were always on our toes and we ate it up. I am sure you could say that for many novels in the same vein. But in Pegasus, McKinley takes it at her own pace. Yes, she wants us to enjoy it, but she is building something grander than what we expect. And that takes time.

There is also the issue of the method of bringing up important information. This was the sole thing that bothered me in the novel. Instead of finding a way to bring up relevant information as it was needed in an effortless way, I always find myself recalling a memory with Sylvi where she remembers some piece of information. This meant that a chapter would start with Sylvi at 16, but a memory would take her back to 12 to learn something, and then we would spring forward again. I can understand using this technique every once in awhile, but every time Sylvi needed to know something, we went down memory lane.

The only other thing that slightly bothered me is that the story isn't complete. I had no idea going into this that the full story wouldn't be in the book. The story ends (rather abruptly) with ideas of a sequel. I wish I would have known that going in so I wouldn't feel as sad to set this one aside. :)

All that being said, I adored Pegasus. I found it to be a beautiful weaving of friendship, love, and the meaning of tolerance between two different peoples. I look forward to what the next book will bring in 2012.


  1. I've never read anything at all by Robin McKinley...

  2. O wow. You make it sound amazing. I can't wait to try it.

  3. I'm not really into fantasy but when I saw the cover of this book I was immediately intrigued. I'm glad to hear you weren't disappointed and I'm definitely going to add this to my list. I pretty excited because I've wanted to read something more fantastical lately!

  4. Usually I'd snap this up (I love slower burning books that are normally more rewarding for the time that you spend getting into them) but I've read a couple of books this year that have incomplete endings and I'm not sure I can bear another one..maybe I'll tackle the McKinley back catalogue and then get to this one by the time a sequel is out...

  5. I have to admit, I'm on the fence with RM. i read Deerskin and absolutely loved it. I adored the slow pace and descriptive voice that she created. I truly felt transported into Deerskin's world and mourned her loss while rooting for her coming into herself.

    My next stop was Sunshine. The cover took my breath away and Gaiman gave his kudos so I figured it was a no brainer. Unfortunately I was less than pleased. I still adored the writing but I HATED the plotline. The opening was promising but then it fell flat.

    I don't know if Pegasus is the next one that I should try or not. I'm much more interested in her on fantasy works rather than her retellings (although I guess Deerskin is loosely a retelling, huh?)