I enjoyed reading Maggie Stiefvater’s books in the past but it wasn’t until I saw glowing reviews from blogging buddies and Goodreads friends that I became really curious about The Scorpio Races. It sounds different from anything else that she’s written and Maggie herself said that this is her favorite out of all of her books. How’s that for encouragement? I couldn’t pass up reading this one and I like that it’s a standalone novel.
Here’s the summary from Maggie Stiefvater’s website:
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.
Sigh, what a lovely, lovely book this turned out to be. It’s the best Maggie Stiefvater novel that I’ve read and if you haven’t read any of her books, I recommend that you start with this one. The novel is narrated from alternating points of view – Puck or Kate Connolly’s and Sean Kendrick’s. Both are entered to compete in the deadly Scorpio Races, the annual event featuring water horses or capaill uisce. These terrifying water horses come out of the ocean only in the island of Thisby and unlike their land counterparts, they live on flesh and blood and love to hunt moving targets. A few islanders can tame them enough to ride them to the races, Sean is the most gifted when it comes to handling the water horses. Puck is the most unusual contestant in the race because she’s the first girl to enter and she’s riding her regular island pony, Dove, instead of a water horse. It was easy enough to like Puck – she’s a prickly character but brave when she needs to be and she’d do anything for her two brothers. She joins the race to discourage her older brother, Gabe, from leaving the island. While I’ve always lived in the city and can’t relate to the small town life in Thisby, I can understand how Puck feels about her homeland. To live in a place that’s not easy to love, a crazy place with wild typhoons or storms, a place that friends and family would rather leave so they can find better opportunities somewhere else. Yeah, that sounds pretty familiar. And The Scorpio Races is just as much about Thisby as it is about the water horses. Sean shares the same fondness for their homeland. When asked why he doesn’t leave, he answers with, “The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr.” Remove the Corr bit (although I wouldn’t say no to a magical water horse of my own) and that is exactly why I love the beaches in the Philippines.
I loved how the romance developed in this book, the pacing was perfect. It’s the best kind of slow burn, filled with intense, meaningful glances and one-liners that go straight to the heart. I ate it all up and savored all the scenes between Puck and Sean. These two are so very different from each other – one is feisty while the other is a quiet sort of person – but they also have so much in common. They’re tied by their love for Thisby and how they both care for their respective horses – the loyal Dove, for Puck and the blood-red, unpredictable water horse, Corr, for Sean. Both of them are orphans and because they’ve had to fend for themselves, they seem older than their teenage years. But I don’t mean to imply that the focus of the story is the romance because it really isn’t. Like I said, The Scorpio Races is about the island of Thisby, its people (viewed through the eyes of Puck and Sean) and the horses that they love. I know next to nothing about horses, I think I’ve only ridden a horse once in my entire life, but that didn’t keep me from being fully immersed in this novel. The Scorpio Races may not be for everyone (I’ve seen mixed reviews) but it makes me happy that it worked out for me. Beautifully written, it sucked me in and didn’t let go until I reached the end. One of my favorite books read this year, I recommend it to fans of horse stories and subtle romances.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the scenes from Sean’s point of view:
“As the sun shines low and red across the water, I wade into the ocean. The water is still high and brown and murky with the memory of the storm, so if there’s something below it, I won’t know it. But that’s part of this, the not knowing. The surrender to the possibilities beneath the surface. It wasn’t the ocean that killed my father, in the end. The water is so cold that my feet go numb almost at once. I stretch my arms out to either side of me and close my eyes. I listen to the sound of water hitting water. The raucous cries of the terns and the guillemots in the rocks of the shore, the piercing, hoarse questions of the gulls above me. I smell seaweed and fish and the dusky scent of the nesting birds onshore. Salt coats my lips, crusts my eyelashes. I feel the cold press against my body. The sand shifts and sucks out from under my feet in the tide. I’m perfectly still. The sun is red behind my eyelids. The ocean will not shift me and the cold will not take me.”