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by Robin McKinley

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Because of a thousand-year-old alliance between humans and pegasi, Princess Sylviianel is ceremonially bound to Ebon, her own pegasus, on her twelfth birthday. The two species coexist peacefully, despite the language barriers separating them. Humans and pegasi both rely on specially trained Speaker magicians as the only means of real communication.

But it's


Because of a thousand-year-old alliance between humans and pegasi, Princess Sylviianel is ceremonially bound to Ebon, her own pegasus, on her twelfth birthday. The two species coexist peacefully, despite the language barriers separating them. Humans and pegasi both rely on specially trained Speaker magicians as the only means of real communication.

But it's different for Sylvi and Ebon. They can understand each other. They quickly grow close-so close that their bond becomes a threat to the status quo-and possibly to the future safety of their two nations.

New York Times bestselling author Robin McKinley weaves an unforgettable tale of unbreakable friendship, mythical creatures and courtly drama destined to become a classic.

Editorial Reviews

From Paul Di Filippo's "THE SPECULATOR" column on The Barnes & Noble Review

Before I take you gallivanting off to visit a trio of marvelously imagined otherworlds, let's drop in on a packed conference hall in Hamburg, Germany, in the 21st century. At a conference of writers, scholars, and lovers of the fantastic in the arts earlier this fall*, my colleague the novelist and critic Brian Stableford offered the term "heterocosmic creativity," as a big tent that might contain the wide-ranging topics that were on tap that day: Utopias, vampires, and alternate histories; Star Trek, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings; Paul Auster, Max Ernst, Lady Murasaki.

Where once this set of literary interests might have been the province of only a dedicated sub-group, connoisseurs of the unreal, it seems undeniable that the fantastic flourishes today as never before. The bestseller lists and the box-office receipts testify to the dominance and popularity of heterocosmic creativity in all its guises, the more fantastical the better. In fact, that type of heterocosmic literature known as science fiction, whose signature trick was always to blend naturalism with the speculatively outré, has declined in popularity over the years in the face of pure fantasy, which frequently turns its back completely on science, rationality, logic, and plausibility.

But despite the current outpouring of heterocosmic creativity -- or maybe because of it! -- fantastic literature, like any human endeavor, finds itself still manifesting Sturgeon's Law, which famously mandates that "Ninety percent of everything is crud." In a disposable welter of sexy werewolves, enigmatic elves, and juvenile wizards, the truly original and finely crafted work often gets lost.

Here, then, are three recent novels, embedded firmly in the mainstream of commercial fantasy, that nonetheless stand out above the flood.

Galen Beckett, author of the beguiling and charming The House on Durrow Street and its predecessor, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, is in reality a writer named Mark Anthony, with six prior books to his legal name. I must confess that my glancing encounters with his early work left me uninspired, as they seemed generic high fantasy. So the name change and relaunch -- often a strategy to deal with disappointing sales and unfair audience perceptions -- was probably a necessary and good thing, catching readers like myself with our prejudices down. But of course, the tactic would have been worthless without a substantial novel or three behind it, and those goods Beckett provides in spades.

The two books so far in this series (with a third, The Master of Heathcrest Hall, due to round out the sequence), fall squarely under the category of "fantasies of manners." This mode, emphasizing the loaded, coded behavior of exotic societies in the manner of a Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel, received its biggest boost a few years ago from Susanna Clarke's bestselling novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, although talented practitioners such as Caroline Stevermer had flourished earlier.

Beckett's winning conceit is that the demure politeness and witty banter and rigid matrix of social conventions prevalent in his pre-technological land of Altania really conceal a subterranean power struggle that is positively Lovecraftian. Beyond the frayed curtain of mundane existence, a race of hideous elder beings known as the Ashen are striving to return to the human world, aided by their mortal pawns. The only barrier to their triumph and the destruction of mankind are witches such as our heroine, Lady Ivy Quent, her bold and stalwart husband Alasdare, and good magicians such as Lord Rafferdy. But can Ivy Quent focus entirely on cosmic matters? Hardly, what with two younger sisters to marry off, a father in a madhouse, and a decrepit old domicile to rehab.

Success in such a mode of fantasy relies on walking a tightrope perfectly. On the one hand, the social interplay must ring true, and captivate the reader. On the other hand, the weird elements must exert their own attraction and potency. Too much cozy can spoil the grotesque, and vice versa. But Beckett maintains a perfect balance. The strivings and snubs and conquests of the parlor and tavern and palace -- love affairs, dinner parties, debts, games of status -- never overshadow the otherworldly perils -- the enigmatic figures in black, the looming new red star in the heavens, the titular house with its carved living eyes. Nor does the occult huggermugger detract from the quotidian. They supplement each other nicely: terror hidden beneath crinoline skirts.

Patricia McKillip is approaching the fortieth anniversary of her first novel, and she just keeps getting better and better. Little prone to repeating herself, she nevertheless has fashioned a body of work that exhibits an overarching consistency and uniformity of tone and approach. Her novels have the force of primal fairy tales akin to those collected by Grimm or Andersen, with a modern sensibility that never becomes intrusive. She exhibits the same delicacy and deftness and connectedness to the Ur-storytellers as did Lord Dunsany. To borrow Dunsany's famous phrase, she is joyfully at play "beyond the fields we know."

Curiously enough, as if casting a ruminative look backward at her own long career, McKillip's latest -- The Bards of Bone Plain -- deals explicitly with the storytelling urge, finding much to say about why and how we tell tales, and where they fit into any healthy culture. Yet there is no smidgen of preachiness or boasting at work in her lovely narrative.

Phelan Cle, about to graduate from his studies as a Master Bard, is unfortunately saddled with a drunken father, who is a starry-eyed antiquarian, and also with a bit of uncertainty about his career and future. Phelan finds all his problems assuming starker magnitude with the arrival of a mysterious foreign bard named Kelda, who seems determined to upset the calmness and hierarchy at Phelan's school.

But this tale is not Phelan's alone, as McKillip populates her canvas with a host of engaging characters, with my favorite being Princess Beatrice, who, sharing the love of antiquity exhibited by Cle senior, has "spent her life in holes," being most at home after "fleeing out the nearest door of the castle after she had pulled on her dungarees and boots." If I tell you that Beatrice's mother is named, perfectly, "Queen Harriet," you will see the kind of expert characterization and off-kilter humor that McKillip delights in.

Every other chapter in the novel takes place in the deep past of Phelan's world, following the career of the seminal Bard named Nairn whose biographical details have been darkened for Phelan and his contemporaries by the passage of centuries. Eventually, in a surprising and clever move, the tail of the past is bitten by the jaws of the future, making a beautiful circle of events, thematically and plotwise.

McKillip knows and shows the rigors and challenges, traps and rewards of the creative life. By establishing a dialogue between the "purer" past of her world and its oh-so-slightly overcivilized present, McKillip speaks to our own era's ultra-commodification of storytelling, and, in one of the signature moves of good fantasy, highlights a path toward reinvigoration of that which has grown stale.

A tomboy princess, the tension between a storied past and a troubled present, and the angst that accompanies finding one's place in the world also crop up in Robin McKinley's new book, Pegasus, but in a fashion decidedly different from the same set of tropes in The Bards of Bone Plain. Whereas McKillip is writing sophisticated, modern-day kindermärchen, McKinley is turning out something much closer, at its core, to science fiction, the fantasy-tinged kind pioneered by Andre Norton in such classics as The Beast Master and Witch World. Despite its Neverland setting, McKinley's novel might well have been placed on a human-colonized alien planet, and in fact blends the world-building of Poul Anderson with the anthropological explorations of Michael Bishop in such works as "Death and Designation Among the Asadi," all under the capacious fantasy canopy. And of course, Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels will also come immediately to mind.

Princess Sylviianel -- Sylvi for short -- is the fourth child and only daughter of the rulers of a human kingdom whose aboriginal allies are pegasi: winged horses. But not the classic Greek icons. Here's a description of them:

Pegasi looked almost like four-legged birds, standing next to horses. Their necks were longer and their bodies shorter in comparison, their ribs tremendously widesprung for lung space and their shoulders broad for wing muscles, but tapering away behind to almost nothing; their bellies tucked up like sighthounds', although there were deep lines of muscles on their hindquarters. Their legs seemed as slender as grass stems, and the place where the head met the neck was so delicate a child's hands could ring it…

Definitely alien, a bit creepy, and almost insectile. Not your off-the-shelf wish-fulfillment cousins to unicorns. It's a tribute to McKinley's powers of depiction and characterization that she makes the reader experience Sylvi's unique bond with these exotic creatures. The girl -- twelve years old at story's start, sixteen later on -- is the first person to be able to converse via a fluid telepathy with these sentients, starting with her specially bonded partner, Ebon. (One gets the sense almost that Sylvi is a mutant, the first of her kind in eight centuries, another SF riff.) Sylvi's unprecedented connection with the pegasi leads to a paradigm shift in the culture, in which she assumes her true destiny.

McKinley is explicit that her tale is a parable of race relations. (Did I mention that Ebon is a rare black pegasus?) The magician Fthoom objects to Sylvi's powers: "'The two races are too dissimilar; any attempt to draw them together can only do injury -- the incomprehension between our two peoples is a warning we ignore at our peril.'" Unconventionally, however, McKinley portrays neither humans nor pegasi as oppressors or oppressed, but as equals in unfamiliarity and cloisteredness. No shame or guilt or anger encumbers their relationship, only ignorance and lack of outreach. It's a refreshing change from the imperialist Avatar template.

Another subtext that is acknowledged glancingly, but is just as vital, is that of Sylvi's adolescent sexual awakening -- and interracial sexual awakening at that. Substitute lovemaking terms for flying terms in the passage below, and the import is apparent.

Would it be so terrible if we were found out? If it was known that we went flying together? But she remained silent because she knew the answer: Yes, because it was forbidden. Yes because if they tried to claim that they had not been expressly forbidden to go flying together it would mean they were irresponsible children. And yes because everything about the unprecedented strangeness of their relationship was risky, because some people were frightened by strangeness.

Quite a weighty freight for what purports to be a simple YA fantasy. But illustrative of just how much real substance true heterocosmic creativity can contain, when cliché and imitation are left behind.

* The conference in question was the German Conference on the Fantastic, held in September of this year at the University of Hamburg and masterminded by Professor Lars Schmeink. It was the inaugural affair of the newly founded Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung, or GFF, and was inspired by the long-running International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)
1070L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Robin McKinley has won various awards and citations for her writing, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Her other books include Sunshine; the New York Times bestseller Spindle's End; two novel-length retellings of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and Rose Daughter; and a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, The Outlaws of Sherwood. She lives with her husband, the English writer Peter Dickinson.

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Pegasus 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 210 reviews.
rabidreaderWS More than 1 year ago
No one can deny that Robin McKinley really knows how to write a fairytale novel. This one has plenty of action, a bit of angst, love and romance and loyalties and betrayals. I was surprised though that it started out so slow for me. Maybe I've become a spoiled reader, expecting books to just get right into the story. With Pegasus we get a build up, with some history and glimpses into the past before the story really takes off. However, this book is very well written. Robin McKinley is one of those writers that have a way with words. The story always feels polished and finished, never awkward. When I say it started out slow for me, it's the pace - the almost leisurely beginning. The plot is excellent and the storytelling is superb. The main character is a princess, Sylvi whose family has been ruling within a land that used to be ruled by Pegasi. Hundreds of years ago, the two races came into an accord, a treaty. However, I don't think the two sides look at the treaty quite the same way... Every royal member of the family gets bonded with a pegasus. The pegasi and the humans need a speaker, a magician to help them translate, since even with sign language meanings don't usually translate well between the two races. But when Sylvi gets bonded with her pegasus, she discovers that she can communicate with her pegasus without a speaker, and not only with her pegasus, but others.....and things become complicated from then on. Sylvi and Ebon, her pegasus, become real friends and do things together that haven't been done for hundreds of years, if ever. A wonderfully written book - and yet I didn't like the ending. It was a rather sad ending. That's okay - it's not the authors job to write endings that I'll like, but an ending that rings true to the novel. And this ending makes me wonder if there are going to be other novels in the same world..... It's written well, the words and pages flow along. Get the book - it would make a great Christmas gift for teens and adults - especially those who have a soft spot for pegasus and fairytales that don't always have a happy ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved many of McKinley's other books, so when I saw that she wrote a new one, I jumped on it. But I was terribly disappointed. The plot was slow and boring 90% of the time. I kept reading, in deference to books like "The Blue Sword," thinking that it just had to get better. But at the end, I felt angry - the ending was awful, with no sense of satisfaction at all. In fact, I thought my Nook copy was broken, and that somehow there MUST be more to the story because that can't possibly be the ending!
Meli_Green More than 1 year ago
All right, this could have been an epic book. I absolutely loved the idea of a princess and a Pegasus and a whole different world! However, the over-detailed parts, the confusion of it all, were just too much for me. At first I thought the detailed beginning was just to start the story, but I came to realize it was throughout the book, which would not have been so bad if the story would not have taken so long to get to the heart of the plot. The dialog is really choppy, and the use of the word "dad" in the book threw off the tone for me. I just wasn't expecting a princess, her brothers as well, to call her father who is a king "dad." I think it just seemed too modern for me and broke the magic of it all. Even though I read through it all I'm not sure I grasped everything that had happened. There were too many flashbacks, which in my opinion were very confusing. One minute Sylvi is talking to her Pegasus and the next moment she is talking to her father. I'm not sure where the jump from twelve to sixteen came from. Also the names, I had the hardest time trying to remember who was who, there were a lot of characters and then most characters had a matching Pegasus. Overall this story was very slow. In fact nothing really happens till the very end of the book. This story had potential to be really good but was very disappointed with how very little action there was.
pagese More than 1 year ago
I haven't read Robin McKinley before. This one sounded interesting and the cover really drew me in. But sadly, I didn't enjoy this book nearly half as much as I had hoped. And I was sadly disappointed in the ending. I wasn't sure what to think of the human characters. I liked Sylvi for the most part. I think it's because she's a princess that she acts way older than her age. I really enjoyed her relationship with Ebon. I wish we got more of it. I also like Ebon because he was different in so many ways from the other Pegasi. But, I also liked all the other Pegasi that we get to know in this story. Their history and differences were really fascinating. I really liked Sylvi's father. He's regal and displays all the attributes necessary to running a kingdom, but I also liked the love he shows to his family. So were did the story fall for me? It was in all the details. I was bored beyond belief for the first 100 pages or so. There was too much information on the alliance and the history between the Pegasi and humans. There wasn't enough interaction between the two. I wanted a story about the relationship between humans and Pegasi, and not the reasons behind it. The last half of the book was better, but I still felt like the story was too complex. My last problem was the ending. I was just getting into the story around 300 pages or so and realized, I don't think this problem is going get resolved. And spoiler or not, I wish I had known before had that it doesn't. The book ends in such dramatic fashion that I flipped through the pages again just to make sure I wasn't missing something. I was not happy. Less happier still when I go online and realize that the author doesn't always write sequels to her story. I am happy to say though that a Pegasus II is slated for 2012 (according to the author's website). I'll read the damn thing because the author left me hanging so badly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story about a friendship that transcends every barrier. Beautifully written, and as captivating as only a McKinley novel can be, Pegasus is a must-read for fantasy lovers. Impatient readers might want to hold off for a bit though, as the book ends with a cliffhanger that isn't due to be resolved until sometime in 2014, according to McKinley's blog.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Warning! This is not a stand-alone book! It is only the first of three planned books and his first book ends in the middle of a paragraph (literally!), and a really sad and shocking one at that. The second book is already more than 2 years past its original publishing deadline and the author has admitted publically that she is really struggling to continue the story. The writing is brilliant and the story (so far), engaging, but given the high probability that it will be years (if ever) for the story to be finished, there is no way i would spend $15 for this first enstallment!
Bocelli86 More than 1 year ago
I was so excited to read this book because of all the great reviews and because, let's face it, the IDEA of Pegasus has such amazing potential. Sadly, I was disappointed. It was all I could do to get through the first two hundred pages of historical and background mumbo-jumbo! It seemed to me that there was too much "information" and not near enough character development. The glimpses of character development I did see were great, but so few and far between that it all just felt like a tease. By the time the book did pick up and actually become interesting and exciting, I knew there would never be enough time left to conclude anything! You wade through 200+ pages of boring background story, get about 100 pages of excitement and the oh-my-gosh-this-might-actually-turn-out-good feeling, and then it ends. Apparently there is a sequel coming out in 2012 and I will probably have to read it just to feel like I have gotten some closure. Hopefully the next book will suceed where this one did not. The story of a princess and a pegasus is too exciting to have been told so poorly. On a side note I will say that the cover art is absolutely, amazingly beautiful. Kudos to the artist!
FearNo5 More than 1 year ago
Don't read this book.  At least not until you have its sequel in your immediate possession.  I am a fan of McKinley's work and this book does not disappoint--until it abruptly ends. Unresolved. McKinley has a rambling style of storytelling that I find engrossing and apparently some others find boring or confusing. I supposed you give in to it and you like it--or you don't. Her books are more like experiencing the dream of a fairytale. Trying to make mundane sense out of her books is like trying to analyze your flying dream while you're having it. Just fly.  I did feel that what happened at the very end of the book should have been an event much earlier on, say, a third into the book. I wasn't bored with the other stuff, just thought that particular event needed to be moved up and then I wanted to read the rest of the two-thirds of it, dammit. It's not even anti-climactic as an ending, it's just not an ending.  I just spent this whole Sunday in a feverish daze (finally getting a break from work) to read this book in one sitting. When I came to "the end" I kept trying to load the next page. I thought there was something wrong with the digital nook copy I had purchased. When I realized that that was not it, I frantically went on the internet in search of the sequel.  There isn't one.  This book was released in 2010. I found a blog post in 2012 saying the author had (been forced to?) split what was originally one book into three parts. This is the first. That explains a lot. The bad news she announced (in 2012) was that she was having trouble rewriting the second section into a second book.  Today it is December 21st, 2014 and I found a blog post from two days ago saying no updates on a sequel. I want to tear my hair out.  I. Want. To. Tear. My. Hair. Out.  Many of her books have a slow (sometimes too slow of a) buildup, and then an abrupt (sometimes too abrupt of an) ending but this is on another level.  Do yourself a favor and don't start reading it until you know you can finish it (when all the sequels are out). 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It didn't seem thought out, there was no real plot, no happy ending, and it often "rambled." Very disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the most amazing book. Kinda confusing, but AMAZING!!!!! LOVED IT!!!!!! the socond one- Ebon is coming 2014....... nowhere NEAR soon enough!!!!!!!! I wish i could give this more deserves billions!!!!!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Veyr good book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was the best book ive ever read . I wish there was more
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I realli did like this book but what about the ending! I reeeeeeeeaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyy hope there is a second book!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are the bones of a good story here but they are burried under tedium. We get it. Pegesia are amazing and oh so very different than people. How many times do we need to hear the same details about them explained for pages. I think this book would be much more satisfying if you edited out half the descriptions and beefed up the plot with things actualy happening. One enjoyable book instead of a plodding series.