Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Title:  The Scorpio Races
Author:  Maggie Stiefvater
Genre:  YA fantasy/mythology retelling
Pages:  409

Rating:  A+

Synopsis from goodreads.com:  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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Opening line:  "It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die."

I just knew when I started reading The Scorpio Races that I shouldn't have started it so late at night.  From the opening to the closing line, I was sucked in and unwilling to stop reading despite knowing I'd hate myself for staying up so late.  And sure enough, I'm soooo tired today, but that book was worth it.

One of the coolest aspects of this story was that it could just as easily have been Celtic historical fiction, not fantasy.  It could have simply been a story about an Irish girl deciding to ride in a male-dominated sport and her struggle with both the training and the prejudice against her, and about a boy who wants to own the horse that belongs to his boss, even though he's the one who's been training and riding it for the past six years.  I actually kept thinking of two movies when I read this book - The Quiet Man (because of the racing scene and the fight scene) and The Secret of Roan Inish (because of its depiction of the Irish island dwellers and their mythology).  Everything in The Scorpio Races seems very realistic, from the American tourists to the descriptions of the fields and cliffs.  The only thing that makes this book fantasy is the fictional island of Thisby and the surrounding Scorpio Sea, and the fact that the racers ride wild, carnivorous water horses (the Capall Uisca) from the sea that would do anything to escape, including eat their riders.

The characters in the book were great too.  Kate "Puck" Connolly is the determined island girl who needs to ride to try to keep her home and family together.  Since being orphaned thanks to the water horses, she's had to become tough and self-reliant, but she's also got a vulnerable side that she only lets slip when she thinks she's alone.  I thought she was great because she wasn't a Mary-Sue; she's a fierce competitor but she also makes mistakes.  She's one of two narrators in the book; the other is Sean Kendrick.  Sean was also orphaned by the water horses, but he still appreciates and loves them, training them to run the races.  He has a very calming and commanding presence, but there's also a wildness to him, especially when he's with Corr, his water horse.  My favorite secondary characters are the American horse-buyer George Holly and Puck's younger brother Finn.  Both add some elements of humor, and they also each help Sean and Puck reach their goals.

Everything about The Scorpio Races drew me in- the beautiful writing, the characters, the setting, the horses, the story.  I felt like I was there the entire time, standing next to Puck or riding the Capall Uisca, and I only wish that Stiefvater would write another book about Thisby and the races so I could experience it all over again.  A+

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