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Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Summary: For centuries, the most important tradition on the little island of Thisby has been catching man-eating water horses and riding them in an annual race along the beach. Tourists flock to the island to watch and bet on the dangerous race, which usually results in the death of at least one man. That’s how Sean Kendrick lost his father, though that tragedy hasn’t stopped him from winning the race four times. Even with that fame and glory, he still hasn’t gotten what he’s after, so he makes a risky deal with a hardhearted horse farm owner.

Another orphan, Puck Connelly, lives with her two brothers, a pony horse named Dove, and an unreliable motorcar. The races have always been a man’s game that she’s had no part in, but now she’s found the races may be the only way to save her family’s way of life.

This year, the stakes are at their highest for Sean and Puck…and only one of them can win.

Review:  I think most girls went through that “horse phase” at one time or another (and for some of us it never ended). In elementary school, I read Misty of Chincoteague, Black Beauty, and The Black Stallion series. I had journals filled with drawings of horses. I went to “horse camp” and made friends with a crazy pony named What’s Up Doc, more commonly called What. I’ll never forget the time I was riding him when he decided to run into a gazebo tent. He was short enough to go under it, but I smacked my face against the top part…

The Scorpio Races recalls many previous horse-racing stories with some new twists. First, the man-eating water horses, called capall uisce, are both feared and respected by the islanders. It’s not an ordinary horse race. At any moment your mount may succumb to the call of the sea and plunge right in with you still on its back. Or even worse, try to eat you.

Second, this isn’t the typical underdog story. Puck, a teenage girl who doesn’t even own a capall uisce, is the underdog of the race if anyone is, but Sean, the other protagonist, has won the race many times before. The story is told in their alternating points of view, and I came to love them both. Puck is funny and tenacious, while inscrutable Sean is serious and world-weary. You find yourself desperately wanting them both to win, but only one can succeed. (People have compared the book to The Hunger Games, but this is the only similar point I could really see). By the time of the race, I thought I had the ending figured out, but Stiefvater throws some great curveballs – the kind that make perfect sense in hindsight, but that I never saw coming.

Stiefvater does a fantastic job with the setting, slowly revealing more and more of the unique character of the island and its inhabitants. The supporting cast of characters is colorful, from Puck’s tinkering younger brother to George Holly, a friendly American. I only wish we could have gotten to understand the “villains” of the story a little better.  The writing is also gorgeous -I could almost feel the October cold and damp settling into my bones.

My first Maggie Stiefvater book was also the first she published – Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception. Stiefvater has a rare gift for evoking  haunting moods in the readers’ minds and getting them utterly caught up in the emotions of her characters. Despite that, I will admit I have been frustrated at time with the lack of explanation in her books – a general feeling that something important is missing. Shiver was the worst about this, and that is why I didn’t finish the trilogy. However, most things make sense in The Scorpio Races, and her writing is really top-notch here. Another thing: I liked the romantic mood of her previous books, but at times it bordered on insta!love (Shiver, I’m looking at you again!).  “I’ve been watching you for a long time” is typically not a good excuse, either. So I was pleased that the relationship in The Scorpio Races develops naturally over a longer period of time.

In short: The Scorpio Races creates a fascinating world that is slowly uncovered to the reader during the first half, culminated in a gripping last half of the book. Recommended for horse lovers and patient readers who love a good read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Something similar: It reminds me of the horse books listed above. The carefully-created island setting also recalls The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer and Airman by Eoin Colfer.

Cover: It’s all right, but it gave me the impression that this book was intended for a younger audience than young adults. Nevertheless, Stiefvater, the Renaissance Woman of YA lit, animated and wrote and performed the music for this incredible book trailer.

Where I got the book: Amazon store – Kindle

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2 comments on “Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

  1. Pingback: Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater « Back to the Bookshelf!

  2. Pingback: Top 10 of ’12: Best Books I’ve Read This Year « Back to the Bookshelf!

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