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By Robin McKinley

Reviewed by Jordan B. Nielsen

Recommended for: Girls with the patience of saints, aged thirteen and up.

One Word Summary: Unreadable.

I must start with a confession: I stopped reading at page 140 out of 404, so make of this review what you will. I simply could not go on, a first in my history of reviewing for The Rusty Key, and I say that with a mixture of pride and shame. But after reading Nick Holdstock’s essay on When to Stop Reading I released myself from the responsibility of trudging on to the middle and end of the book with a clearer conscience, yet an unsettling sense of disappointment in a book I had high hopes for. Rather than reaching the soaring heights depicted on the cover, the boggy, muddled pacing of this story saddles Pegasus with a leaden weight, and sends it crashing to the ground. 

From what I could gather, Pegasus takes place in another world, in another time, and features Sylvi, a twelve-year-old princess (she ages to fifteen as it goes along) who is on the verge of a major milestone. In this fair green country, humans aren’t the only ones prancing through the dells. When the ancestors first arrived in the lands of Sylvie’s kingdom they encountered the Pegasi, otherworldly horse/deer-like creatures with wings that could, of course, fly. A treaty was struck between the two diametrically opposed races, and together they fought off the numerous predators that were savaging the fragile Pegasi species. Ever after, each member of the royal family was ‘bound’ to a similarly prestigious Pegasus, a life-long, somewhat awkward partnership. This is made extremely complicated by the fact that Pegasi language is so incomprehensible to humans that magicians are required to stand as interpreters for the two races, and a tense yet respectful distance has always kept humans and Pegasi from forming true friendships because of this. Sylvi is the fourth child of the royal family, with three brothers ahead of her, and no desire for the throne. But on the day of her binding everything changes and

Sylvi is thrust into the spotlight when it’s discovered that she can commune telepathically, in English, with her bonded Pegasus, Ebon.

I so wanted to love Pegasus, a book which I initially feared would wander too deeply into girly-rainbow-fairy-unicorn territory. But with the first chapter serving as a history lesson in the region and culture, it felt as if we were stepping into a sort of Lord of the Rings for girls, a richly developed fictional universe rife with fuel for a great plot: Magical creatures, warring factions, sorcerers, rumored lands of wonder, a real sense that these people live and breath, with traditions, relics and all the trappings that an ancient civilization collects along the way.

But as page after page of these amazingly elaborate, well thought-out descriptions of the realm unfolded, the initial awe turned to a hunger for the story that’s being promised to begin. And as that hunger continued to go unfed, anticipation turned gradually to frustration.

Virtually every paragraph takes place in a different time period, some ten years ago, some yesterday, but none of them now, depriving the reader of the chance to occupy the same space as the action. All these patchwork memories knit together into an alluring tapestry, but with no wall whatsoever to hang it upon. In those first 140 pages, there was but one scene that seemed pertinent to the plot, where the characters actually started moving forward into what I guessed the story would become. But that scene, which was meant to be quite tense and pivotal, was utterly dismantled by the pacing. Every sentence a character spoke seemed to spawn three flash-back remembrances of little relevance, and by the time you circle back to the scene we were allegedly in the middle of, you’ve forgotten what they were talking about.

I feel a bit shrewish criticizing this work for overdevelopment, when so often my complaint is the exact opposite, but unfortunately this book is so crowded by the back-story that there’s no room for shy little Sylvi. So a third of the way into the book, with the characters still standing like chess pieces on their starting squares as the author endlessly pondered her first move, I surrendered myself to a lifetime of wondering if that book ever got any better.

© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012