Synopsis: Princess Sylviianel has always known that on her twelfth birthday she too would be bound to her own pegasus. All members of the royal family have been thus bound since the Alliance was made almost a thousand years ago; the binding system was created to strengthen the Alliance, because humans and pegasi can only communicate formally, through specially trained Speaker magicians. But everything is different for Sylvi and Ebon from the moment they meet at her binding - when they discover they can talk to each other. They form so close a bond that it becomes a threat to the status quo - and possibly to the future safety of their two nations. For some of the magicians believe there is a reason humans and pegasi should not fully understand each other...
Sequel: Title not yet known (forthcoming 2012)
Book cover: The design is really pretty and suits the fairy tale feel of the novel very well.
The first sentence of this novel draws the reader in superbly - "Because she was a princess she had a pegasus". Unfortunately, the book then failed to retain my interest for about three chapters or so before finally recovering and gripping me.
The problem is that McKinley spends far too much time talking about the past, especially in those early chapters when she should be focusing on introducing the present and the characters to us. Furthermore, she doesn't clearly delineate where her flashbacks begin and end, but rather sticks them in with the present day events, leaving me sometimes confused for a moment when she suddenly switches time periods. Additionally, she made some strange choices with regard to the oldest of the stories from the past - for example, when writing a man's diary entries, she adds an extra "e" to the end of every "the", presumably not realising that "thee" has an entirely different meaning.
When she does focus on the present, however, she creates a superb and complex world, using concepts borrowed from other authors and from mythology, but with a totally unique spin on them. The idea of the pegasi being intelligent species bonded to the humans but separated from them by a language barrier is really interesting and the true bonding between Sylvi and Ebon is wonderful to read. It definitely has the feel of a fairy tale and children and adults alike should enjoy it. I also like how real McKinley's world-building feels - far too many fantasy writers, for example, fail to make their kings, queens, princes and princesses feel like real royalty, or have their subjects actually act like subjects.
There is, however, one other way in which the book doesn't satisfy me and that is the ending. Apparently it was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel but got so long that the author was forced to split it into two... and to be honest, that's exactly what it feels like. There's no proper ending; the final scene is heartbreaking and not at all where I would want to stop reading, least of all as the second book reputedly won't be published until sometime in 2012.
Essentially, then, it feels to me more like the beginnings of a fabulous book than a fabulous book in its own right. It could have used some serious editing and reworking in regard to the scenes from the past, most especially those in the first few chapters, and if the length of the story meant that it had to be split into two, the very least they could have done was ensure that book two was published shortly after the first one. I do definitely recommend this book to other readers... but you may want to think about waiting a while until the second book is closer to publication.