Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Scholastic Press US/ UK
Publication date: October 2011
Hardcover/Paperback: 404 pages
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone (HOORAY)
How did I get this book: I got a review copy at BEA
Why did I read this book: Killer seahorses. Seriously.
All cards on the table: I have always been on the fence when it comes to Maggie Stiefvater’s books. I read Lament and tried to read Shiver but didn’t like either book. I was irritated by the characters, by their lack of logical development and above all by the no-holds barred, insta-love/obsessive – type of romance story that drove those stories. However, I have always been able to appreciate this author’s beautiful prose (despite a certain tendency for that kind of exaggerated tone, on the brink of purple territory). Because of that, I felt that there was definitely potential for greatness somewhere in those stories which went largely untapped and frustrated me to no end but also made me want to give The Scorpio Races a chance (also: killer seahorses).
And I am delighted that I did. The Scorpio Races is an utterly different book from Lament and Shiver and I loved it. The writing is as beautiful and lyrical as it can be without verging on purple prose. The characters, and who they are, drive the story and although there is an element of romance it is not intense or heavy-handed at all. It is the kind of romance that I tend to love the most: subtle, slow-burning, of that kind that evolves from getting to know each other well, from friendship to the possibility of something else.
But I am ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh yes:
On the tiny island of Thisby, in the middle of nowhere, at an undisclosed time, every November sees the Scorpio Races, every November ends in death and blood. The horses emerge from the sea, dangerous and deadly and are greeted by the inhabitants of Thisby with both dread and excitement. The Scorpio Races have been happening since anyone can remember, and the islanders can only survive economically because of that. Most of them try to race and to be famous and rich. A lot of those die.
Sean Kendrick is the reigning champion and the only one who seems to be able to control the horses. He is a young man with a passion for the sea and for the seahorse Corr – a horse that is owned by Sean’s employer but who really belongs to Sean. This November will see Sean racing for his life, for his future and for Corr.
Puck Connolly wants nothing to do with the races or the seahorses for they killed her parents leaving her and her brothers Finn and Gabe on their own. Then one day Gabe says he is leaving Thisby and on a whim, moved by the need to have him staying for at least a bit longer, Puck does the unthinkable: she joins the races. She is the first girl to ever do so and she will race with her regular, normal beloved horse, seahorses be damned. This November will see Puck racing for her brother, for her home and for herself.
The chapters more or less alternate between the two characters, and the story follows their progress with the horses and the training for the race. The race and the seahorses are an awesomely cool concept (inspired by Irish and Scottish mythologies) that are appropriately explored by the author with a fabulous imagery (like for example, when the seahorses rose from the sea), a sense of danger that never lets go and a somewhat vague world-building that absolutely fits the timeless, beautiful atmosphere of the story.
Having said that, The Scorpio Races is not really about the seahorses or about the races at all. It is about the people that run on the races and about the island that depends on them. The characters and their motivations drive the story forward and what a story this is. It is about sibling love, impossible friendships, death, despair, jealousy and absurd hope. The horses might be killers rising from the sea like the worst possible nightmare out to get people but some humans are worse. The races might be deadly but staying put where you don’t want to be might be equally devastating.
Puck’s arc was probably my favourite. Her joining the race was so obviously a childish thing to do, a mindless reaction to her brother’s impending departure. But she later decides to stay for a myriad of reasons. This prompts her growth in a proper coming of age story: from realising she looks like her mother, from paying attention to what she wears to fighting to stay on the races despite everybody wanting her not to (and there is definitely an element of feminism in her pursuit of her right to race). And I loved her relationship with her bothers and her love for her horse and for the island.
Then of course, there is the relationship between Sean and Puck which starts off as uneasy acquaintance, to grudging alliance to something more. The something more is never, ever worded except for small bits of delightful conversation (sometimes not even between the two of them).They share a tragic past, a love for the horses but above all their share the fact that both are passionate for things that other people simply don’t get: Sean loves the seahorses, deadly as they are. Puck loves the island, small as it is.
This is truly a beautiful book, the type that remains long after the pages are closed, timeless just like the story within.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
I think that’s a mercy of this island, actually, that it won’t give us our terrible memories for long, but let us keep the good ones for as long as we want them.
Rating: 8- Excellent and leaning toward 9
Reading Next: First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci
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