Thursday, July 7, 2016

REVIEW | The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: NA
Awards: Nominated for a few including the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature
Format: Audio
Narrator: Steve West and Fiona Hardingham

Why?:  I fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater's writing, reading the Raven Cycle but when  I tried the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, I immediately hated it.  I turned to The Scorpio Races in desperation, and within 5 pages let out a sigh of relief.  Plus - Carnivorous Fairy Horses from the Sea.  Need I say more?

Synopsis: The small island of Thisby somewhere in a northern sea off of a U.K. like coast, a small community makes their way through life in a harsh environment and amidst a thin veneer of mysticism, magic, and tradition. Most want to escape but for a few the island calls to them and they can't imagine being anywhere else no matter how hard life there is.  One thing the island has going for it is being famous for its horses and the annual Scorpio Races.  The horses and the race are not typical however because the contestants ride wild, carnivorous water horses known as capaill uisce.   Except Puck Conolly who is the first girl ever to ride in the deadly race and who also insists on riding her island pony rather than one of the powerful, dangerous but other worldly fast water horses.  She is doing it at first in a bid to keep her older brother on Thisby, then to keep their house but then it becomes something she must do for herself and for Sean Kendrick, the quiet returning champion of the Scorpio Races, who has taken her under his wing.  

This is going to be a short review because the best thing I can say is that The Scorpio Races exemplifies everything I love the most about Stiefvater's writing - fantastic  characters, complex relationships and a setting that feels alive.  The island of Thisby feels like it has its roots in two worlds.  One which is very real and includes harsh weather, poor soil and few jobs, the other which is magical with ritual, steeped in the tradition and which lives with and reveres fairy horses that can kill you.  It's distinctive and atmospheric and practically a character in the story.

For the people who are born on Thisby it is either in their blood and has them in thrall or they can't wait to escape.  The fact that our main characters, Puck and Sean, would never dream of leaving Thisby, even though both lost their parents to the island's unique dangers, is enough to reveal a lot about their characters.  I love that Sean begins to mentor Puck when he perceives her connection to the island and to her horse because for Sean, horses are king.  We get both Puck's and Sean's  POVs which are significantly different enough and keep the story flowing.  Stiefvater evolves Sean and Puck's relationship slowly and subtly which perfectly fits their characters and Thisby.  She has an anecdote on the audio or perhaps in another interview I read that she wrote this book after she finished the Mercy Falls series which was apparently loaded with lots of kissing.  She mentions that she kind of started to panic when there wasn't more kissing in The Scorpio Races but it just felt right to take things slow.  I love this because the relationship and in fact the whole story and book feels very organic, like it just flowed, of its own accord, out of Stiefvater's pen.   

This is not a light-hearted book with the clever funny lines like The Raven Cycle but even though the overall tone is somewhat desperate and somber, it still feels hopeful and the story pulled me along. I listened to the audio and it was fantastic.  It has two readers, male and female, both of which were perfect.  Also on the audio you get some original music, written and performed by Stiefvater and it fits the book perfectly (see trailer below for a snippet).

Finally, I have to mention that all the horse stuff is just so fab!  I was a little girl who loved horses... A LOT... and I still really like them and this book was really good for my horse loving soul.  The capaill uisce are an amazing creation with Stiefvater really capturing the heart of a horse but with predator instead of prey instincts.

FINAL VERDICT:  I feel like I got completely lost in this book and was totally happy about it.  4 out of 5 Stars.

Other Opinions are Available:  The Honest Bookclub | The Book Smugglers | Chachic's Book Nook

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