Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA, urban fantasy
Published on October 18, 2011
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 416
Read From: 2.4.12 - 2.5.12

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 choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.


This is one of those surprising books. Reading the synopsis, one might cock and eyebrow in doubt and think, Well, it could be good, but I suspect that it is just strange. The concept doesn't work. And maybe in the hands of another Author, the concept would not have worked. Kelpies in the twenty-first century? Yeah, right. But Maggie Stiefvater really surprised me, and I have to admit that this is one my new favorites. I initially balked at the thought of vicious horses. Owning horses myself, I know their sweet, gentle nature firsthand, and I could never imagine such good-intentioned creatures being, well, carnivores. But as soon as the water horses were introduced, I loved them and feared them at the same time. The Author portrayed them in such a way that their wildness is alluring; Heaven help me if I ever actually meet a water horse, for I'll be drowned in a trice. I could totally understand Sean's love for them, and even the island of Thisby itself, which contained the same cruel beauty as the horses.

Another thing that initially bothered me was the fact that the Author never actually says what time period the story takes place in. Clearly it is a modern time, but how modern, it doesn't say. And it worked. While cars and other modern conveniences were mentioned, Thisby felt ancient. A time period unto itself. While tourists and other people from the "outside" world visit Thisby, the Reader never leaves the island themselves, causing it to feel totally shut out from the rest of the world, adding its old, mysterious, and superstitious air. It made the strange rituals and superstitions of the Scorpio Races believable.

As for characters, I cannot sing Sean's praises enough. A quiet, "conserve-my-words, keeping-myself-to-myself," type, there is nothing about him to not like. He suited the island and the horses perfectly, and I would even venture to say that he made the story. Usually telling the story from such a character's point of view can ruin them, but it didn't with Sean. Perhaps it helped that there was nothing mysterious about his past, and while it was first-person, Sean did not spend much time talking about himself. Puck was a little less likable. She was not necessarily annoying; she just wasn't as interesting or complex of a character as Sean, and after a while her sharpness of temper got a little wearing, even though she never really lost her temper over anything trivial. And Mutt was absolutely fun to hate; I so badly wanted Sean to kill him. Never have I hated a bully-type character so much as I did Mutt.

The writing itself is surprisingly good. I don't like first-person present-tense narrations, especially when it is paired with the chapters alternating between narrators. I have nothing against first-person or alternating narrators, but I do when it is paired with present-tense. Amazingly, it worked for this book. After a while, I forgot that it was even in present-tense, so effectively did it draw me into the story.

My main complaints are fairly minor. The ending could have been ten times sadder than it was, which would have pushed the book even further up in my "praise list." I wish Puck and Sean's relationship had remained a really good brother-sister-type relationship, rather than dissolving into a romance. While Sean's character was not at all ruined by the romance, his is a personality which is meant for deep friendships and no more. And Mutt's demise felt a little hollow, simply because we Readers don't exactly get to read about it. We hear of his unfortunate fate through a conversation between two other characters, and after so many instances of Mutt being intentionally cruel to horses and Sean, I really, really wanted to read about his slow and painful death. Still, the ultimate ending is very good. Bittersweet, and beautiful.

Content-wise, there is 1 s-word and 1 g--damn, and a couple of lewd jokes that are nothing to twist one's knickers into a knot over. The book is fairly bloody - not excessively so, but definitely brutal. Quite a few horses get hurt, which is upsetting for anyone who loves horses as much as I do. But none of this ruins the story. Overall, it is a wonderful, haunting story that I'll always love.

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