Autumn, the sea, loss, and the twining of myth and harsh reality – these are some of the elements that make up Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. It is perfect November reading, complete with descriptions of storm, sea, a forbidding landscape, and a repressed island life. In this beautiful and haunting story told from two perspectives, an island race will change lives and define destinies.
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.
Don’t mind the summary – I never do. While Puck is the narrator we hear most from (and a more loveable and vinegar-y girl you’ll never meet), the main character of The Scorpio Races must be Thisby, the stark island that serves as the setting. It was Thisby, with its cliffs and narrow beaches, mysterious local rituals and stoic populace, that captured my interest and wooed me into the story.
Before you ask it, yes, the water horses place the book in ‘fantasy’ territory. However, it has much more of the feel of historical fiction than anything else, and as the author herself said, it could be labeled ‘alternate historical fiction.’ Let me not deceive you – the water horses are fierce, bloodthirsty, fey creatures, and their natures and Puck and Sean’s interactions with them provide much of the tension in the book.
The Scorpio Races is much more than a horse book (I admit to loving them as much as the next girl). It examines the relationships between siblings, the inevitability of change, the ties in small town life, the savagery of nature, and the forms that grief and friendship take. Combined with these, Stiefvater has created vibrant and separate personalities that now feel like people I have known. It is an immediate, exquisite, and satisfying tale – and I think I shall dream of it for quite some time.
Now don’t take my praise without a grain or two of salt. I think The Scorpio Races rates an amazing, but I did come away with a question or two about its world. First and foremost being: are there schools on Thisby? It seems as though there must be, because the populace uses proper grammar. I vaguely remember a reference to something ‘learned in school’ – and the existence of schools would make it much harder to accept Puck Connolly’s isolation and ignorance of her neighbors. Also: there is one character’s death (OMG, spoiler! shoot me now!) that is dealt with in rather a hurried fashion comparative to the rest of the text. And there are, no doubt, other faults I overlooked. But in the end, I found The Scorpio Races to be just lovely.
Here’s my confession: I tried Shiver. I didn’t like it. Stiefvater’s faerie series didn't pull me in. I was startled to find myself interested in The Scorpio Races. You know what did the trick? The lovely book trailer. As someone who hates (no, really, HATES) book trailers, I was barely convinced to click the PLAY button. Thankfully, I did, and as a result I found a haunting and beautiful story.
Recommended for: fans of beautiful writing, those who found bits of their souls in Katherine Patterson’s Jacob Have I Loved and Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, and those who gobbled up Marguerite Henry books in childhood. Have you been wondering where your next great adventure lies? It is between the covers of this book.