Recently I won a LibraryThing Early Reviewer that I really, really wanted: Robin McKinley‘s Pegasus. This must be why I don’t win anything in radio contests – too lucky here: Adam Schell, GK Chesterton, and now this.
Pegasus is a purely unique, yet purely Robin McKinley fantasy, and my review in two sentences is: What a gorgeous, gorgeous book. But be warned: it’s not a stand-alone novel.
Well, and there’s a third sentence: how has no one done this before? Unicorns are everywhere, but pegasi … I can’t think of any. Thestrals don’t count.
Hundreds of years ago, humans crossed the mountains, and stumbled into a war. It was the pegasi versus … everything else the magical bestiary could throw at them, and the pegasi weren’t doing very well. The humans came in on their side, and when the dust settled a treaty had been written in which the two species would be permanent allies – equal, except for the fact that the humans are just a bit, very courteously, dominant. A system was developed wherein members of the pegasus royal family would henceforth bind themselves to members of the human royal family, to be their frequent companions. Although communication between the species has always been iffy at best, there are some human wizards who can serve as speakers to get the point of human speech across to pegasi present and vice versa. A body of rules has grown up to protect the slightly lesser status of the pegasi: One never even thinks of suggesting one might ride a pegasus. (Humans are too heavy, as pegasi have hollow bones, and it’s very very rude.) And no matter how incredibly beautiful and tempting the coat or wings might be, one never touches a pegasus.
And all of this apparently works just fine, until it comes time for Princess Sylviianel – Sylvi – to be bound to her pegasus. The moment Ebon approaches her, the two of them discover that they can communicate, mind to mind, with absolute clarity and no barrier at all. When this comes out, it causes great consternation among the human wizards … and after a time the reasons for that consternation, beyond simply the uniqueness of the situation, start to become disquietingly clear. Their unique bond is perceived as a threat – not only to those wizards whose job it is to act as pegasus-human human-pegasus translators, but to the whole kingdom.
I loved this book, even though it broke some of my cardinal rules. Characters said “Okay” – which usually makes me throw a book across the room. I forgave it here. Let that be an indication of how much I loved it. Also, the book ended on a particularly nasty cliffhanger… I had no idea that would happen (most of McKinley’s books do stand on their own), until a couple of chapters from the end it started to become clear there was no way this was going to wrap up in the diminishing pages that were left. Apparently the sequel won’t be out till 2012, hopefully well before the world ends – I want to know the rest of the story.
The reasons I forgave the “Okay” and the cliffhanger are many. The pegasi were wonderful. For them alone I’d forgive darn near anything. They are beautiful, so much so they leave your mouth dry and your head light, and the two things most strongly forbidden are two of the only things you can think of when in the presence of one – you want to stroke the gleaming neck, and to be taken, clinging to a powerful back, into the clouds. They are much as our own mythology indicates – but to facilitate their civilization they have tiny hands at the joints of their wings, and although they envy humans our big, strong hands, with what they have they can accomplish marvels. This book does something with the pegasi that a great many science fiction novels could learn a great deal from: it presents a species completely and utterly alien to humanity in every conceivable way, from anatomy to language to point of view and methods of governance. I don’t read a great deal of sci fi, but what I have read tends to have gone along the lines of “no, really, he’s an alien, look at his ears!” So often there is a race of people who look different but think much the same, and after a few dead ends communication is established and viola (yes, I did that on purpose) everyone is chatting away. And then, of course, there’s Star Trek… the only ST race I can think of off the top of my head that fulfilled the definition of “alien” as well and beautifully as the pegasi was the Horta (and I’d rather hang out with a pegasus.) (Or Diane Duane’s Ensign Narhaht). In Pegasus communication starts out troublesome, and never improves. Of course, there are extra reasons for that.
All of the characters were wonderful. I loved Sylvi’s parents – quirky, three-dimensional, lovely people. I loved the relationships among the family. I loved the writing, of course – no one can spin a simile like Robin McKinley. She’s a terrible example for beginning writers who hear from all angles they ought to avoid simile and metaphor – how can you avoid something as beautiful and effective and as much fun as she makes it? She plays on language like a musical instrument. It’s a marvel.
So is the book. I’ve read reviews where people complained about the first half going nowhere, or about flashbacks into Sylvi’s past … I don’t get it. I had a wonderful time on just about every page … until the last, when it was beyond obvious that the end wasn’t near. But if it wasn’t the middle of NaNoWriMo, and if I didn’t have eleventy-one other books stacked up to be read, I’d happily sit down and read it again right now.
ETA – according to the WP stats, this is my 100th post on gold-of-fish! Woo hoo! *confetti*