Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review of Pegasus by Robin McKinley

McKinley, Robin. Pegasus. Putnam, 2010.

Like many a dragon tale, this is the story of a close mental and emotional bond between a human and a member of another species - in this case, the pegasi. The pegasi - a horse-like people with enormous, gorgeous wings - inhabit a remote land that a group of human explorers settled a thousand years before. At that time, a formal Alliance was struck that the humans would rid the land of the monsters who had been plaguing the pegasi, and in return the humans would get to found their own nation in a prime part of the pegasus lands.

The Alliance still holds, and royal humans are bonded at age 12 to royal pegasi in an elaborate ceremony - but that bonding is just a ritual. Humans and pegasi can't really learn each other's language and must rely on rare human magicians to interpret for them, and the "bonding" seems to be a tradition only and not a true meeting of minds and souls.

That is, until 12-year-old Sylvi is bonded to a male pegasus named Ebon. During the ceremony, Sylvi and Ebon discover they can communicate directly with each other merely by thinking, something unheard of and startling to both kingdoms. The bond of the two is immediate and strong. Ebon flies Sylvi on his back (so taboo that they never tell a soul, human or pegasus), they talk for hours - and when Sylvi is 16 years old, she becomes the first human ever to visit the pegasi nation, where the pegasus king and queen hold court.

This is a tale of the struggle to bridge vast cultural divides and to be a trailblazer in a society that is mired in tradition and under threat from dangers within and without its walls. But more than that, this is a love story. Sylvi's intense feelings for Ebon (she can barely stand to be parted from him) sound just like any teen's first love - and yet, because they belong to utterly different species, there is no hint of any physical aspect to their love. The two young people are so close and connected that they can't imagine existing without the other.

One does have to wonder what will happen when either Ebon or Sylvi finds a love interest of their own species, as one assumes they will someday (although it's very hard to imagine, so intense is their relationship). What if they just cling to each other until old age? It does seem a bit weird - if I were either of their parents, I'd be a trifle concerned.

There isn't a lot of action or plot in the book, but McKinley is an able enough writer to make that work; Sylvi's perceptions of Ebon's people are fascinating. Also, Ebon is a breath of fresh air, irreverent and unselfconscious - the opposite of solemn Sylvi. However, we do get way too much of Sylvi's thoughts, and when she speaks, she often says things sadly or wistfully. This lack of energy causes a drag on the story that made me impatient more than once. Perk up, Sylvi! Sure, there could be a lot more understanding between your people and Ebon's - but your royal parents are super cool, so are Ebon's, and... you can talk to pegasi!!!!!!!!

The book ends abruptly and is rather a downer, but it's quite obvious that another volume must be on its way. Will Sylvi and Ebon, cruelly separated, ever be allowed to be together again? Will humans ever embrace pegasi for who they really are, not just what humans think they are? Will Sylvi find a human guy to love? Stay tuned!

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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