Friday, 24 February 2012

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

First published in the UK: 19th October 2011
By: Scholastic Ltd

Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible. 

When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the beasts. 

Even if they stay together, can they stay alive?

A breathtaking ride that will make your heart race.

My review:

Maggie Stiefvater's prose just does it for me; it affects me and pulls on my heart-strings enough that I forgive the slow pace and the frustrating moments. During The Scorpio Races, Stiefvater had my eyes tearing up at the sad bits, my pulse racing at the exciting bits and my heart swooning at the romantic bits and I was so emotionally satisfied that I can't call this anything but a great read.

Unequivocally the best thing about this book is how well Stiefvater creates the setting and atmosphere. The island of Thisby is so detailed that you feel like you've been there: You've stood on the cliffs, you've breathed the sea air, you've eaten the delicious-sounding cakes  - and you've trembled at the sight of the cappaill uisce, the huge, carnivorous water-horses that rise out of the sea every year.

The men of the island attempt to tame these wild beasts and ride them in a dangerous race that not many survive. A boy named Sean enters every year and a girl named Puck is racing for the first time. The Scorpio Races is the story of how they train and prepare and try to hold their lives together through it all, while developing feelings for each other. A comparison that came to my mind is The Hunger Games, if Katniss never went to the Games and instead, the part at the beginning where she and Gale hunt and look after their families in District 12? Is the whole book. Of course, Puck and Sean do have their race, but 90% of The Scorpio Races is on the journey to; the race itself is brief.

I loved the two main characters. I love that Puck isn't some larger-than-life Amazon, storming into the races and showing everybody what's what. She's quiet and steady and just keeps persevering to get what she wants - that felt very real to me. The only issue I had is that her initial motivation for entering the races is kind of weak. Later on, she realises she needs to win to save her home, but I thought it would have worked better to establish that right off.

The novel switches back and forth between Puck's narration and Sean's and, while I've seen some reviewers say that there wasn't much difference between the two, I thought that most of Stiefvater's pretty prose is written in Puck's parts and the way she describes things in such detail conveys the sense of a young girl, making new discoveries about the world around her. There's also a surprising amount of dry humour from Puck, which further endeared her to me. Sean is the classic moody loner boy, but he has this calm strength that commands everybody's respect and, well, you can't help but adore a guy who loves his horse that much. You know what they say about men who treat animals well.

Puck's younger brother, Finn, is seven shades of adorable but her older brother, Gabe, is a problematic character - I wasn't sure if I was supposed to hate him or not. His decision to leave the island, essentially abandoning his teen-aged siblings to fend for themselves, is so, so crummy and selfish that there can be no justification for it. By the end of the book, though, I just let it go: Gabe's life, where he's twentysomething and de facto parent and breadwinner and stuck doing menial jobs to make ends meet, is my idea of hell. (There doesn't appear to be any young women on the island, either, so I hope Gabe is gay and was having hot sex with Tommy Falk, because that's the only thing that could have made his life remotely bearable). So while, I didn't like him or believe his decision was right, I had some empathy for him.

OK, so it does take 450 pages to get to the race. And after all that, the race is only around 12 pages long. BUT, those are about the most thrilling 12 pages I've read in a good long while. Having the race be so tightly condensed helps make it so tense and exhilarating (and you've been waiting for it a long time, so you're pumped it's finally happening). Add to that the final, moving scenes between Sean and his horse and you have exactly how Stiefvater gets me again and again with her novels. I get swept away by the emotions and the atmosphere and the prose and while I may feel manipulated, I'm too busy wiping away the tears to care.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. She does have a way with her use of words. I still need to read Linger and Forever. I might pick this one up at some point though, you touch on a lot of good aspects to the book. :) Sounds good!

  2. I started reading this book but when I got to the part where Gabe said he was leaving, I stopped. It just really bugged me that he was so selfish and though I didn't finish the book, I kinda got the feeling that neither Puck nor Finn really questioned him about it. I do agree that Maggie writes beautifully though. I guess I'm just not that much of a horse person.

    1. You stopped pretty early on, so I'd suggest giving it another try when you have the time. Gabe isn't around very much (that's kind of the point of his character, how he distances himself from Puck and Finn leaving them feeling even more alone) so if he's the one thing that's bugging you, you don't have to deal with him often. Puck does eventually corner him and question Gabe about leaving, but, like everything in the book, it takes a while.

  3. "Emotionally satisfying" is the PERFECT way to describe this book--I wish I had thought of it :) And I agree totally with your review. I hadn't really thought about Gabe's character that much before, but now I see what you mean. Great review!

  4. I am about 3/4 to the end and not liking it at all! But I am sticking with it, because I do think that it is very beautifully written, so I give it props for that! I hope too, that Gabe is gay. That he would leave Finn and Puck was so disturbing to me! I thought that the only way that it could be justified is that he's gay and wants to start a new life with Tommy. The island doesn't seem like a LBGT-friendly place!

  5. This story is such a different twist. Enjoy a new story line with exciting fun! Don't think it is going to be about a typical horse!
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