The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Release Date: October 18, 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Format: ARC

Source: Inkwood Books

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. 

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Every fall, the horses come out.

Dripping, feral, racing from the sea, they storm the beaches and are found all over the shores. It is this that makes the villagers to mostly stay away. These creatures have harmed them and their families, ripped into their flesh and killed. The horses are wild and untamed, and they love more than anything to have blood. They are vicious.

Every year, in November, there is a race.

The men from all over come to find horses and race in the Scorpio Races. This is a tradition that has shadowed Thisby for years, and every year, more and more lives are lost. Every man is gone in the face of honor and greed. For a month, they train on the beaches, fighting to maintain control of their wild horses, and to get faster and faster.

Puck has two brothers, but her parents were attacked in the water by these water horses, and they are barely scraping by. Her brothers work, and she lovingly devotes time to her horse Dove. They try to make do by selling things and working, getting by on what little that they have. In light of the financial problems, Puck thinks that they have a pretty good life. She races with her brother down to the beach - him in his car and her on her horse - and they are on good terms with the villagers.

Everything changes when her oldest brother Gabe announces that he has to go to the mainland. The debt on the house is growing, and he doesn't know what else to do. Puck's world is crashing down and she thinks that he has betrayed her. She is desperate to do whatever it takes to get him to stay. Without another thought, she claims that she will race in the Scorpio Races. That at least would keep Gabe from leaving for a few weeks, until the races were over. If she can even win, she could buy their house and they could stay together.

As Puck grows more and more solid in the idea that she will race, she encounters more than she thought possible. Her brothers are terrified. The men of the village jeer and spit and hate the fact that a girl is racing. She would never win. Puck has to overcome her fear of the capaill uisce in time for the races, but if she can't do it, she will have to come up with another option.

Then Puck meets Sean.

Sean Kendrick has been the winner of the Scorpio Races for years. He doesn't know why he does it. What he really wants is to buy Cor, his water horse, from the owner that he works for. He races for the stables, and that is their claim to fame which they are reluctant to let go of. If he can win one last race, he will have enough money to buy Cor from his owner, and finally be free from anybody else. He could do whatever he wanted. He doesn't know exactly what he wants other than Cor.

His father died in the Scorpio Races when he was younger, and he has always known why. You can't show fear to the horses; you can't let them know that you doubt yourself, because they will kill you in a heartbeat.

Sean and Puck keep gravitating to each other throughout the races. As they grow closer and their friendship grows into something more, they have to face the music. Will either of them die in the race?  How will they survive together as November grows closer and closer.

There's something wild about this book. It has a primal, vicious spirit that tears into you and shows you its beauty all at once. As y'all know (probably), I am a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater because her writing is just the most elegant and beautiful thing ever. She is truly the essence of the phrase "words like silver".

This book just makes you think of salt. Salt is more of the vicious part of the ocean. You associate it with stinging, and I associate it personally with a raw throat and fierceness. That's one of the first things that I notice about the beach is the  distinct ocean air. It's both wild and it also represents the magic of the ocean and I think about everything that could be under the surface in the ocean. If you get what I'm talking about, great. If you don't, don't sweat it. I just think about salt, because that is the personification of that book to me.

This book made me truly believe that Maggie Stiefvater is unstoppable. Each series that I read gets better and better, with different edges. I thought that Lament was fantastic. When I read Shiver, I was amazed. With The Scorpio Races, I am blown away. Plus, it's Maggie Stiefvater. In the book world, that name is like God.

There's really a kind of mood that Maggie puts you in. She evokes a completely different world with only a few words. She has this way of plucking the perfect words from the air and making them into magic. Even this review is a sad attempt at mimicking her bright imagery and stunning words.

First of all, Puck and Sean were such endearing characters from the start. You connected with them; you felt the things that they felt; you knew their history, with bits revealing themselves as we were sucked more and more into the story.

Puck was one of those characters like Katniss, who are completely selfless and would do anything for family or loyalty. She's a sweetheart in this, so it was quite a contrast how she participated in such a vicious event. Puck had a nice vulnerability about her that made my heart soften while I read about her, but a steely determination that made her unstoppable. She had a quiet strength that made me like her a lot.

Sean was one of those people in books who had lost everything except for one thing. That was what he kept striving for. In this book, that thing was Cor.

Now, Cor wasn't necessarily a major character. He was a water horse. Although it made you think when you saw how much Sean loved him. You really wondered whether Cor was necessarily gentler or better than all the other water horses, or what made Sean take to him. The contrast between horses was a topic that actually came up a bit more in the book that most others because there were several comparisons - Dove v. water horses, Cor v. water horses, Cor v. Dove, etc,.

It was the first scene that drew me into this book. Immediately you're transported to the day of the race and the excitement of it all. There's nervousness and fury and waves and horses and it just takes your breath away. You immediately see a character, and his history, and his connection to the race and it makes you want to devour the rest of the book.

Admittedly, when I heard that Maggie Stiefvater was writing a series about a horse race, I thought that I'd yawn my way through it and end up hating it. Honestly, it just didn't seem up my alley. However, I told my friend about it (she rides horses and loves Shiver) and she begged me to read it too. So, when I saw it at my indie bookstore, I knew I had to have it.

Sean was absolutely heartbreaking to read about. He had loved and lost. The only person there for him was Cor. He had won the Scorpio Races for years and just kept on racing just to race. At first, you wonder whether he has ambition or what's going on with him but he is utterly captivating. His care for Cor and steely determination make him likable, but the rest of his personality makes him an enigma, even when he's narrating.

I wasn't expecting for there to be as much action as there was in this. I think more of Maggie Stiefvater as slowly building up characters and emotions, ominous signs, and then an intense ending that plays with your emotions. It's what I usually associate with her, but for this novel, it really played on the INTENSITY.

The environment of the island of Thisby was very engrossing. It pulls you closer. There are the serious villagers, who have grown up with the reality of water horses. They have a fear of the water, and for good reason. Most of them have lost family members or friends to the water horses, but they can't be moved from the island. They will always be connected there, but they mostly live in fear during the fall months.

There are also the tourists and the racers. These people feast for glory. All men except for Puck, they all thirst for the races because it's where they all come together and compete. For the most part, these people ignore the danger and focus on finding the fastest and safest capaill uisce.

Maggie tends to stick to a light fantasy. She can go deep, but she still usually keeps a foot firmly planted in reality. In this one, she let loose a little bit. She didn't mention the modern world as much. You couldn't tell from the story what time period that it was taking place in, but she let out the reins (literally, ha!) and created the world of the water horses.

The best part about Maggie is that she even said on her blog that she is willing to sacrifice plot in order to evoke a certain mood for the reader. In this book, she managed to do both. Evoking mood is what makes her books stand out.

I'm starting to think that anybody wanting to write fantasy should just start reading Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because first chimeras with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and now kelpies. I'm liking the descent into more obscure myths and creatures. It gives us a break from the usual angel/demon, creature/human, Greek gods standard. It's refreshing to see this branching out of sorts among some well-known authors.

One of the things that some authors struggle with, but that Maggie hits with ease, is character development. At the beginning of the novel, you're interested with the characters and entertained by them. You wonder what they're going to bring to the table. During the middle of the novel, you think that you know them very well. They're starting to grow on you. By the end of the novel, they feel like yourself.

Like I said at the beginning of this review, this book makes you taste salt water. There's something so raw and powerful about it that consumes you, and you feel the wind on your face and the salt on your lips. Honestly, it makes you feel like you're sitting on the beach while you're reading this. Not the light, fresh and sunny beach that you associate beach reads with. I mean the feral, before-a-storm, white foam on waves, windswept hair, cliffs beach that intoxicates you. I love that sort of beach and I'm always looking for books that fulfill my need for it.

The ending kills you. If you think that the entire part is intense, the ending will get to you. A good last section of the book is all of the climax and you just are there. There's blood and salt and love and everything that makes this book itself. I may not be making sense by saying this, but Maggie Stiefvater just makes you feel it.

This book made me feel alive.

 Maggie Stiefvater is utterly brilliant, and there's no other way to describe her. Her writing takes your breath away, and her plotlines are nothing short of extraordinary. Pick this one up, and I promise that you will fall in love with it more and more with every word that you read.

Recommended for anybody who loves: Shiver; Lament; Impossible; Ballad; Hildago; etc,.

Possible book club questions:

Why do people keep racing?How do you think the trend in YA for Norse mythology is growing?Do you think Maggie's approach to "evoke a mood" works for plot as well? How can writing with a goal change the writing itself?How is prejudice brought up in this book with Puck and the men?Do you believe that Cor is good? How can he compare to the rest of the water horses? What examples are in the text?