I love reading and I love getting book recommendations from many sources: friends, family, other bloggers, big books with lists and lists of other excellent books. Miriam Joy mentions Maggie Stiefvater on her blog a lot and she (Miriam, not Stiefvater) seems quite cool, so I recently picked up a bunch of Stiefvater novels at the library. I was partway through Lament (to be reviewed soon) when I picked up The Scorpio Races just to see what it was about. I read the blurb on the cover and it sounded fascinating, so I read the first chapter to see if it was. And then another. And another. By the time I’d gotten to Chapter 5, I decided to put aside Lament and The Casual Vacancy and whatever else I’d been reading so that I could devote my time to this novel.
In November… thousands of writers participate in a contest of words? Well, yes, but in The Scorpio Races, something very different and far more deadly happens during that month. (As far I know, no one has ever died from NaNoWriMo stress.) On the first day of every November, riders on the island of Thisby compete on horseback in the Scorpio Races. But this isn’t a modern-day Black Beauty. The horses are no ordinary ones, but capaill uisce, based on the European legend of water horses. They’re vicious; they have sharp teeth; they pulled the parents of one of the main characters under the water and ate them. If you’re a rider, winning comes second. You just want to control your mount and make it across the finish line without being killed.
Sean Kendrick is nineteen and a four-time winner of the Races. For nine years, ever since his father died during the Races, Sean has worked for the Malvern stables, training both the normal horses and the capaill uisce. He handles the latter better than anyone else and has a special bond with Corr, the blood-red stallion his father rode on. This year he’s racing again because Benjamin Malvern tells him to every November as advertising for his business. Sean also has another reason: he needs the money he’ll get from winning to buy Corr from Malvern.
Kate “Puck” Connolly and her two brothers were orphaned by the capaill uisce. She doesn’t want anything to do with those horses but when her older brother Gabe announces that he’s leaving Thisby she impulsively signs up for the Races, hoping to keep him there just a few weeks longer. (Later on she too races for the money.) Puck notices that the list of rules says nothing about having to race on a capall uisce, so she decides to race on her pony, Dove. Puck faces a lot of pressure not only because she doesn’t have much experience with the capaill uisce – she is the first female ever to compete in the Scorpio Races.
I was pulled into this book as if a capall uisce had grabbed me and dragged me in. I finished it in two days, enthralled by what happens on Thisby. I didn’t mind that the actual Races didn’t take place until the end of the book. The final and most important race, about roughly two miles long, doesn’t even take place until Chapter Sixty-Two; counting the prologue, there are sixty-seven chapters total. I didn’t mind that at all. After all, several other books take a while to get to where they want to go. Katniss Everdeen doesn’t arrive in the arena until about halfway through The Hunger Games or Catching Fire; Harry Potter gets to Hogwarts halfway through Sorceror’s Stone. I was so interested by the Races training, the worries of both Sean and Puck, their budding romance, the descriptions of capaill uisce attacks, and more. Yes, there is romance in this novel. There’s even a bit of snogging. But don’t worry; it’s not the main focus.
I also just like Maggie Stiefvater’s writing. She gives her characters wonderful personalities and her writing really evokes the tense atmosphere before and during the Races. There were several sentences that had me laughing out loud; the best had to be “Is it a party you’re having in there?” “Yes. It’s started in the tub and then it spread to the loo. All that’s left is the sink if you want it.”
Speaking of characters, Finn is my favorite. He’s Puck’s younger brother; he’s sensitive and smart and loves to tinker. I also loved the American horse lover George Holly because he’s funny and helps Sean. And I can’t forget Sean, Puck, and Corr! I loved to hate Matthew “Mutt” Malvern, the lazy son of the stable owner. He’s a tremendous git. He’s stupid but acts like he knows everythng. Mutt holds a grudge against Sean because Sean never lets him ride on Corr for the Races. In reality, that is because Benjamin Malvern wants Mutt on the safest capall uisce possible, but Mutt’s too stupid to see that. I hated the older Malvern as well; he’s rather snobby because he owns quite a bit of Thisby.
I mentioned that Corr is one of my favorite characters. It may sound strange that I thought a horse was better than some of the people, particularly people, not horses, narrate the book, unlike in Black Beauty. But I think what drew me into the story so much were the capaill uisce. Stiefvater’s book has many amazing things but the horses are the best part. I’ve never been obsessed with horses as many girls have but then again, these aren’t your normal horses. I loved reading the terrifying descriptions of them, with their pointed ears and fishes’ eyes. I loved the attack scenes, where the people see large dark bodies swimming under the water mere seconds before the capaill uisce emerge. I suppose The Scorpio Races is a fantasy story, but the horses lend it some horror. I don’t normally like horror stories but I loved this one. I was scared out of my wits by those creatures, yet I didn’t mind. However, I am glad that it is way too cold to swim now because if it were good swimming weather I would keep worrying about the capaill uisce.
I was extremely pleased with The Scorpio Races. I was hoping that I’d like Maggie Stiefvater’s writing and it was wonderful to find that it far exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to read another of her books. And thanks again for the recommendation, Miriam.