21 July 2010

Why can't we be friends (and talk to each other psychically?), or, Pegasus by Robin McKinley

I don't know that I've fully expressed my love of Robin McKinley yet on this blog, but she may in fact be my favorite living author -- a conclusion I came to this morning on my way to work, when I realized that I've read (or reread) a number of her books over the last six months and that they are all amazing. Original. Transcendent. Beautifully written.

(I have more adjectives, but I'll move on.)

I already wrote about Sunshine, McKinley's alterna-verse vampire novel (though honestly, calling it a "vampire novel" would be like calling In Cold Blood a "murder mystery"), one of my favorites of 2010, in a previous post, and I'm mentally composing a "Robin McKinley is Fabulous and Brilliant and You Should Read Her" post in which I'll cover, among others, her fairy tale retellings.

So. I finished Sunshine last month, and I thought, "Hm, I wonder if she's doing a sequel?" (because it has sequel possibilities, though a sequel isn't a need so much as a want, for me the reader). (Sidenote: she's not doing a sequel to Sunshine.) Anyway, when I went to ALA with Jess last month, there, on the very first publisher's table I walked past, was a stack of McKinley's newest novel, Pegasus.

I think I may have shoved past some people to grab a copy. (I was very excited.) I took Pegasus on vacay to Cozumel with me and really ended up savoring it as a result, because it's the kind of book you have to -- and want to -- savor.

McKinley is the queen of world-building, to start. Pegasus is high fantasy at its best, as it takes place in Balsinland, a country won from beasts such as nourindours, rocs, and taralians then settled by humans. The humans were aided in their settlement by the peaceful pegasi, and the two peoples came together to form an Alliance that has lasted over eight hundred years.

The main character is Sylvi, the fourth child (and only daughter) of the current king. She is shy and self-conscious, and she is unsure about her place in the kingdom -- about what she wants to be and do. This changes when she turns twelve and is bound to Ebon, the son of the pegasus king. The problem is that humans and pegasi can't communicate without the aid of magician Speakers -- but Sylvi and Ebon can communicate; they can read each other's thoughts, and this is an issue for the magicians (who have always believed themselves the vital link between humans and pegasi) and for many others who are concerned about what this means for the Alliance.

What I love about this book is how gentle it is. Sylvi is beautifully drawn, and we really have an opportunity to watch her grow up over the course of the story. Ebon, too, is wonderful; his snarkiness and boldness are a brilliant contrast to Sylvi, and their bond is simply lovely.

McKinley also tends to develop wonderful family relationships as well (she's not one of those seriously-messed-up-families-make-my-protagonist-stronger authors), and Pegasus is no different -- Sylvi's parents and brothers (especially Danacor) are supportive and loving, and the pegasi royal family parallels the human royal family nicely.

Pegasus isn't a thriller, nor is it full of action; rather, it's about court politics, certainly, but it's also about relationships that develop between individuals and between groups (especially dissimilar groups), it's about bridging gaps and finding true understanding, and it's about accepting that your understanding of the world can (and should) change -- in three weeks, three months, or a moment.

Pegasus is scheduled for release in November 2010.

19 July 2010

Settling an Age-Old Question, or, Zombies Versus Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

I am suffering from serious YA-sparkly-vampire-exhaustion, so when I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of Zombies Versus Unicorns at ALA, I saved it for my mid-July Cozumel vacay, thinking it would be the perfect by-the-beach read. Happily, I was not in any way disappointed! The book, which is edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, is a collection of short stories, each of which is about zombies or unicorns (or both, in some cases), and while some of the stories are certainly stronger than others, all of them were original and compelling.

The standouts for me were
  • "Princess Prettypants" by Meg Cabot, in which a girl receives a unicorn for her seventeenth birthday and discovers that it's good for more than just looking pretty and farting rainbows;
  • "Purity Test," by Naomi Novik, in which the age-old question of whether a virgin girl is the only one who can see or assist unicorns is put to the test;
  • "Bougainvillea," by Carrie Ryan, which takes place during the early days of the Return in the Forest of Hands and Teeth universe and explores the consequences of dictatorship and the question of power in an unstable world;
  • "Prom Night," by Libba Bray, in which an isolated town of teenagers attempts to celebrate life in the midst of a zombie virus that has wiped out of the rest of the world as they knew it;
  • "Cold Hands," by Cassandra Clare, in which a town that lives peacefully with its resurrected dead is the center of an aristocratic murder mystery.
What I loved most about this collection is how the stories differ in tone; I laughed out loud while reading a number of them ("Princess Prettypants" and "Purity Test" were hysterical), and others ("Prom Night" and "The Third Virgin") were truly frightening. Overall, this was a fun (and sometimes haunting) read, and I highly recommend it.

Also? Team Zombie!

Zombies Versus Unicorns is scheduled for release on September 21, 2010.