Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”
As far as first lines go, there is no denying that the first line of The Scorpio Races draws you in – and it never lets go.
I am a huge fan of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, but was not necessarily incredibly interested in reading this book because, well, horses have never been my thing. But I kept hearing so many raves about this books and it IS written by Maggie Stiefvater, so I put it at the top of my to read pile. It turns out, I am so glad that I did.
The Scorpio Races takes place on an isolated island where every November there is an annual horse race; but it is not your typical horse race because once a year water horses (capall uisce) come from the sea. These horses are stronger, faster, and fiercer – and full of a blood lust for the other horses and their riders. Every year someone truly does die.
Told in alternating points of view, the Scorpio Races is primarily about 2 orphans who need desperately to win this year’s race in order to keep their home (in the case of young female Puck) or to buy their freedom and favorite horse (in the case of Sean). Failure is not an option for either.
Puck is fierce, determined, and head strong. She lives with her two brothers and they are about to lose everything. For her, the only option is to be the first female to enter the race – and win! Puck is drawn to the island and the way the island is written, it becomes a character of its own. As far as literature heroines go, Puck is amazing, and a strong role model. As I read I look for these, I call it the anti-Bella effect. Puck is real, honest, flawed – and yet she has characteristics that you hope readers will see and think, I want to be more Puckish in my life.
The character of Sean is fiercely determined; he is a young man who has set for himself a goal and is working hard to meet it. And yet, as he works towards that goal, he meets young Puck and he is able to let her into his life and work out a plan that will benefit them both. Of course the best laid plans and all that.
The Scorpio Races is also a moody, atmospheric love story which reminds me of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights for teens. In one scene Puck and Sean go riding on a cappall uisce together and never has horse riding been presented as such a sensual experience. As the capall uisce come running out of the sea and the sea foams with blood, the reader is transported to the beach itself in all its heavy weight. Without a doubt, Stiefvater can turn a phrase.
There are a wide variety of interesting and well-developed characters that round out this novel. Characters who provide wisdom and guidance, or serve as an archnemesis (you just don’t get to use the word archnemesis enough in life it seems.)
In the end, The Scorpio Races is not a traditional horse story. No, it is a complex, moving, well written fantasy and love story that tells the tale of two young orphans trying to survive in a harsh world. It is, in fact, amazingly well written. In informal polls many have tossed this title around as their choice to win the 2012 Printz Award. It gets my vote, too.
“The Scorpio drums pound a ragged heartbeat as I wind my way through the crowds that fill the streets of Skarmouth. The cold air smarts as I breath it in; the wind carries all sorts of foreign scents. Food that’s only made during the race season. Perfume only women from the mainland wear. Hot pitch, burning rubbish, beer spilled on the stones. This Skarmouth is raw and hungry, striving and unknowable. everything the races make me feel on the inside is bleeding up through the seams in the street tonight.” (The Scorpio Races, p 178)
Here you can find a recipe for November cakes which are mentioned in The Scorpio Races.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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