THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races is a wonderfully bizarre little book about a horse race on a mythical Irish island… each year capaill uisce (Irish Gaelic for ‘water horses’) come out of the ocean – larger, fiercer, and deadlier than land horses – and a brave few ride them in a race for a significant sum of prize money. Nineteen year old Sean has been riding in the races for years, ever since his father died, and he’s won four times on his stallion Corr. Puck has never ridden a capall uisce in her life, but she enters the races in a desperate attempt to save her family house from repossession. (Incidentally, I used to be a horse girl and my nickname used to be Puck, so all things considered, I immediately had a connection with this book.)
I’d never read any Maggie Stiefvater before, but consider me hooked. This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read – with the dreary November setting it almost begs to be read in the fall. Stiefvater’s prose is so immersive I could practically feel the wind whipping across my face when Sean and Puck were riding their horses across the Irish cliffs. One element of this story I loved was the fusion of Irish Catholicism with the fictional island of Thisby’s own mythos – the way the two coexisted in this narrative was fascinating to me.
These characters quickly and easily won me over. Puck instantly became a favorite (maybe it was the name thing at first, but she turned out to be pretty awesome), and her relationship with her two brothers was one of my favorite things about this story. Unfortunately I found Sean rather bland for the most part, but one element that I appreciated was the contrast between Sean and Puck’s relationship with the capaill uisce. Both of them had parents who had been killed by the water horses, but where Puck was repulsed by them as a result, Sean formed a stronger connection with them. While the story is leading toward an inevitable romance between Sean and Puck, I was glad to see that the romance never really took center stage. It’s more a book about belonging, and surviving, themes which are rendered subtly throughout the novel.
This was at a 4.5 star level the whole time I was reading, and whether I rounded up or down in my review was always going to depend on the ending, which unfortunately left me a bit dissatisfied… Too many plot points were rushed and tied up neatly in too few pages, and for me, the emotional climax of the story happened with about 30% of the book left… While on some level I do think the conclusion was tonally appropriate, I guess I had been hoping for a bit more pain to see out the novel. But that probably says more about me than the book. I really enjoyed this, and look forward to reading more from Stiefvater.