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In novels like BEAUTY, THE HERO AND THE CROWN and SPINDLE'S END, accomplished author Robin McKinley has proven time and again that not only can she shape established fairy tale and folkloric material into something innovative and modern, she can also construct her own intricately imagined fantasy worlds. Her imaginative realms are, in addition to being thoroughly realized, peopled with recognizable, authentic, fully human characters. Her new book, PEGASUS, is no exception. Here McKinley takes a mythical creature everyone recognizes --- the winged horse Pegasus --- and around this figure creates a whole new mythology that's entirely her own.

"Because she was a princess she had a pegasus" opens the novel, and that one sentence encapsulates a thousand years of treaties and complicated relationships between human and pegasi royalty. In a land most often called "the beautiful green country," human royals are bound at the age of 12 to their pegasi counterparts in an elaborate, time-honored ritual. From then on, the pairs are expected to attempt communication through a series of half-understood hand gestures and the mediation of Speakers, or magicians who can supposedly translate between the two noble races.

That is, until Sylvi turns 12 and is bound to a beautiful black pegasus named Ebon. Even though it's strictly forbidden, she knows Ebon's name before it's revealed to her at the proper moment in the binding ceremony. That's because Ebon tells her his name himself; the two have an instant, unspoken connection and can understand each other perfectly, telepathically. This nearly unprecedented communication threatens and angers the royal magicians and mystifies the other royals.

Sylvi's new relationship with Ebon delights both of them, however, as they come to understand each other's worlds. Sylvi even flies on Ebon's back, a joyous experience that is strictly forbidden but proves exhilarating both to the small girl and her large, hollow-boned pegasus. Soon, Sylvi is granted insights and privileges virtually unheard of in her world, privileges that lead her to the pegasi's distant caves but also further attract the attention and resentment of their enemies.

Unlike most of McKinley’s novels, PEGASUS is set up to be the first installment of a two-part saga. Despite its expansive scope and length, it may surprise those who are looking for a resolution to Sylvi and Ebon's stories. Readers need time and space to settle into this heavily historicized and ritualized world, with its annals and customs, menacing beasts and political intrigues. The longer two-part structure also allows McKinley to develop Sylvi as a character, from an unsure young girl to a fully-fledged royal on the brink of womanhood. Ebon, too, is a well-developed character; his snarky internal dialogue with Sylvi provides much of the novel's humor even as he himself grows into his maturity.

Some may dismiss PEGASUS as just a twist on the classic girl-meets-horse novel popular with the equine set, but it's so much more. A gorgeously realized fantasy world with a strong history and sense of place, a fascinating relationship, and a terrific meditation on the changing expectations and understanding of history: all these elements come together as Robin McKinley crafts another firmly grounded, loftily imaginative fantasy world.


Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

by Robin McKinley

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399246770
  • ISBN-13: 9780399246777