Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Release Date: November 2010
Genre: YA Fantasy
(I had a little plot summary written here, but I deleted it now, because it's a pathetic attempt at summing up this huge book. The book is too full of character and setting and the feeling of Balsinland and Rhiandomeer, and a summary loses all that and makes the book sound so dry - which it isn't at all!! I'm sure someone could write a good summary, but I've decided I won't reduce such depth to a few short lines.)
Robin McKinley has a way with language that is almost unparalleled. The first two chapters are really backstory and exposition, but it doesn't feel like it, because the descriptions are so vivid and woven through with Sylvi's thoughts and reactions to all this backstory. The tone throughout the entire book is lyrical and dreamy - as Lucy at Scribble City Central puts it: "Reading Pegasus for the first time was like walking into a dream I’d always had in the far reaches of my mind and always wanted to remember properly, but just didn’t know how to..." I think that describes it perfectly, and I think it's because of the language used. Robin McKinley's books all have slightly different "feel"s to them, because in each one, she adopts the voice most suited to the land and story, and in each case - especially Pegasus, I think! - I, as the reader, am surrounded by and enveloped in the world of the story so much that I have to consciously pull myself out of that world when I stop reading. In Pegasus, it is very easy to differentiate between Baslinland (the human kingdom) and Rhiandomeer (the pegasus kingdom), because the descriptions are so vivid that I felt Sylvi's sense of displacement when she moves from one to the other.
The descriptions of the pegasi are also so vivid that I could picture them clearly as I read. Their anatomy is obviously very clear to Robin, since every little piece of information about how the pegasi conduct themselves and accomplish things is all in keeping with their shape and structure. Robin often says that she doesn't create the stories, but they are given to her, and I think this is a manifestation of that. Her mental image of pegasi is obviously not "horses with wings." Down to their bone density, Robin knows exactly how they are constructed, and it all fits together with their capabilities and cultural work.
Another thing about Robin McKinley's language that I have always admired, and that stands out in Pegasus, is her amazing ability to create new languages that stay true to their individual sounds. Words from the pegasus language show up a lot throughout the book, and they look so tantalizing that I had to say them out loud. And guess what - they actually sound like the whuffling and neighing of horses! The names of the pegasi mostly also do (though Ebon doesn't, but he does say at one point that "Ebon" is only a human approximation of what his real name is). The names of the humans also all fit into a certain sound pattern, which is something I love about all of Robin's books - it adds so much to the culture of a land when names sound alike.
Sylvi and Ebon are great characters to experience this world with. I like it that they're not the same - they each have a distinct personality, and though they do go through all of this together and become good friends, they don't become like each other, but they retain their own individuality. (That was a comment on the caliber of the writing, not on the characters' own strength!) In fact, I tend to skip dialogue tag lines telling which character is saying what, and in this case, I was able to tell almost all the time who was speaking, since I felt I got to know them so well, and they had such unique styles of speech. And each on their own, Sylvi and Ebon are such likable characters! I love Ebon's sense of humor and lack of appreciation for authority and formality, and his way of making jokes and teasing Sylvi. Sylvi herself is more serious and concerned with the state of the two kingdoms and the Alliance, and it was easy to connect with her as she finds herself figuratively alone, and as she gets more information about what's going on that only serves to confuse her more.
Although I think this book focused more on setting and character development, the plot is very strong too. (I expect that Pegasus II will have more plot, and this book is really just setting the stage for what will happen next.) The bits of information that Sylvi picks up are intriguing, and I began to formulate ideas about what was actually going on. True to the idea of a "reader's dialogue" with a book, I had ideas about what Sylvi might do to help things, and who would help her and who would hinder her. I think it's one of the marks of a great book that a reader could make assumptions and predictions, that it's not all given away outright but it's not so enigmatic that the reader can't have ideas of her own.
By the time I got to the end of the book, I was so involved with the characters (not only Sylvi and Ebon, but their parents and siblings and friends) and I felt so in Balsinland and Rhiandomeer, and I had developed my own theory as to what the problem was, that at the climactic scene I actually felt myself inch forward so that I was "sitting at the edge of my seat!" And at the last page, my reaction was a big gasp and a huge "Noo!" I know that Pegasus isn't even released yet, and that Pegasus II is not even completely written yet, but now I just need to get the second book and find out what happens! (Halfway through the book, I started thinking about if it was really necessary to split this into two books. There's a lot of calm time in the book, and a lot of description, and I was thinking that maybe it could have been condensed into one volume. But now I realize the brilliance of splitting it into two books. First of all, because of all the description and the care taken to develop every character and really situate the reader in this world, I care a lot more about Sylvi and Ebon than I would have otherwise. And besides, now this gives me a chance to spend more time in a world I have come to love and care about!)
So now I'm on tenterhooks, waiting to find out how Sylvi and Ebon, and their parents, will deal with this, and what is actually truth and what is fabrication. Please, Robin, please - I need Pegasus II quick!