THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater–Review

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater

This review has officially been seen by the author:

That’s cool.

 

                         
This 2012 Printz honor book was not what I expected.It was gripping and beautiful, but not what I expected.Forgive me, but when the title has the slight ring of The Hunger Games, and the flap tells me that…

Some riders live.

Others die.

And that Puck Connolly “never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice—so she enters the competition…” I immediately think of a book of action.

Though there is clearly action in this book—intense and well imagined—this is not a book of action. (The actual race doesn’t begin until page 380 out of 404.)

The Scorpio Races is a book of poetry, setting, and relationship. And it is beautiful.

Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick live on Thisby, an island of cliffs, clouds, and stiff winds. I imagine it as Ireland—so much so that I’m listening to the Celtic Radio station on Pandora as I write this.  Both Puck and Sean have lost their parents in Scorpio Races past and are struggling in their own way.

Sean is a “horse whisperer” and is the master horse caretaker at someone else’s stables. He is a four-time winner of the Races, each victory coming on the back of Corr—his water horse and closest friend. Corr belongs to the stable owner, Malvern, a cold, calculating, successful man.

Puck is younger than Sean, and in a quick twist of fate, realizes that the only way to keep her family home–and perhaps keep her brother from going to the mainland–is to enter and win the Race. She is the first girl ever to enter. On top of that, she chooses to race not on a water horse, but on her pony, Dove. (“It’s a horse! She’s fifteen hands,I can hear her say.)

“Hang on,” I can hear you say. “A water horse?” Oh, yes. Officially named capaill uisce (and pronounce COPple OOSHka), these horses swim out of the ocean each fall and climb onto Thisby. The men of the island try to capture and tame them for the Scorpio Races. Capaill uisce are bigger, stronger, faster, and more ferocious than common horses. They also live with the constant call of the ocean in their ears, and are often wooed by its song to plunge back into the ocean–rider be damned–land swim back to their home.  These water horses (based on myths of Ireland and Scotland, among others) are flesh-eaters. Racers (as well as locals and livestock minding their own business) are in constant danger. They never know when the capaill uisce will make a snack of their shoulder…or hand…or face.

Puck and Sean are on a collision course? Will they both get what they want and need…when they each need to win the race to get it?

Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Puck and Sean and is told from both of their points of view. They are independent and prideful. But beneath their rough exterior they are searching for that other. Up until now that other for each of them has been a horse. Their courtship is slow and drawn out. Old fashioned. And beautifully believable.

I haven’t read a book of such exquisite language in quite some time. Stiefvater takes her time with the plot to help the reader live the life of Thisby. Thisby is the book–an island whose sandy breezes I could feel blowing across my face; whose waves lapped the beaches in my ears; whose saltwater burned in my nose and dried crusty on my skin. That is the Scorpio Races.

Some of my favorite lines I marked as I read:

She’s wearing a dress that looks like she stole it. It has lace sleeves and Dory Maud does not have lace sleeve arms. (p. 141)

*   *   *

I sigh and put my hands in my pockets. I don’t swear, but I consider the shape of the word in my mouth. (p. 156)

*   *   *

         “Hullo, Mr. Kendrick,” he greets me brightly. “You look in fine spirits.”

“Do I?”

“Well, your face looks like it remembers a smile.” (p. 158)

*   *   *

         “It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand. Something that makes them feel strong or clever. It’s why they love the ocean.” (p. 253)

*   *   *

         “What about you Kate Connolly? Puck Connolly?”

The way he says it, I feel certain he misremembers intentionally, because he liked the weight of the words when he said my name twice, ad that makes me feel warm and nervous and agreeable. (p. 293)

*   *   *

         “I’m sorry. My mother always said that I was born out of a bottle of vinegar instead of born from a womb and that she and my father bathed me in sugar for three days to wash it off. I try to behave, but I always go back to the vinegar.” (p. 294)

*   *   *

         “You leave nothing to assumption. You swallow her with your eyes. I’m surprised there’s any of her left for the rest of us to see.” (p. 347)

*   *   *

Don’t read this book if you need an action fix. The Scorpio Races is a book of poetry, of setting, and of relationship.

Linger and enjoy.

[For more words from the author--including her inspiration for the book--visit one her site: http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-scorpio-races/ ]