Title: The Scorpio Races (2011)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 409 pages
Release Date: October 18, 2011
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.
Ah, The Scorpio Races. I buddy-read this book with the lovely Sara (Freadom Library) and Estefani (Fiction Jungle) a couple of weeks ago, and it’s actually funny because our opinions ended up at rather opposite ends of the spectrum. Note that I am the black sheep of us three — I ended up not enjoying this book whereas they did.
My biggest problem with The Scorpio Races was that the plot took forever to unfold without any reason at all. The first 30 chapters or so went back and forth between Puck’s and Sean’s perspectives, setting the stage, introducing the characters, building up to the race. That wouldn’t be a huge problem if the characters are doing different things each chapter, but I didn’t get that impression.
I honestly think you could cut out maybe half of this book and still have the same story… or an even more captivating, fast-paced one. I feel like there were at least 10 chapters of Puck and Sean being on horseback just thinking, and another 10 of them spending time together silently without a lot of character or relationship growth. My attention faltered a lot and I had to force myself to read, which isn’t a pleasant thing to do.
“It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand. Something that makes them feel strong or clever. It’s why they love the ocean.”
My other problem is that Puck’s motivation for joining the race came across as unrealistic and extremely foolish to me. It’s not really ‘fate’ that drew her into the competition as the blurb suggests — she joined because her older brother, Gabe had plans of leaving the island, and her possible death would make him stay… well, a couple weeks longer, that is. She just didn’t think it through and her actions didn’t make sense in that context. Needless to say, I didn’t connect with her at all.
Unfortunately it’s not only Puck that I didn’t connect with. Sean, our other POV character, struck me as very one-dimensional — broody, angsty, and remarkably quiet with a horrible history to boot. Gabe was no better: barely there and underdeveloped. The only character I liked was probably Finn, Puck’s younger brother, who was sweet and caring but didn’t play that big a part in the story.
One of the lines in Finn’s code is that you’re not to say anything about Finn being attractive to the opposite sex. I’m not sure which exact statute governs this, but it’s closely related to the one that won’t let you thank him.
Something about compliments and Finn don’t work.
Thirdly, I’m not a huge fan of dual narration and this book, unfortunately, reminds me why. Puck’s and Sean’s voices sound almost exactly the same — they have similar thoughts, similar personalities, similar ways of talking to others… I would often have to flip back a few pages because I suddenly forgot whose chapter I was reading and need to be reminded. These two were practically indistinguishable, and it did little to add to the story.
Where The Scorpio Races wins (and pretty much the only reason why I’m giving it an extra star) is the setting. Despite the slow-paced plot, this book is atmospheric. I love the idea of Thisby, this quiet, lonely, secluded island whose culture revolves very much around the capall uisce — flesh-eating, wild, ferocious water horses from the sea that were captured and trained to race in the Scorpio Races.
Unharmed, I find myself facing the sea, surrounded on all sides by the capaill uisce — the water horses. They are every color of the pebbles on the beach: black, red, golden, white, ivory, gray, blue. Men hang the bridles with red tassels and daisies to lessen the danger of the dark November sea, but I wouldn’t trust a handful of petals to save my life. Last year a water horse trailing flowers and bells tore a man’s arm half from his body.
The people of Thisby practically live and breathe these horses — there are traditions surrounding the beasts, curses and well wishes, scary myths and bedtime stories told generation over generation about them: what they’re like and what they like, what to do when you see one, what to do when you’re on one… It’s very imaginative and evocative, and I admire Stiefvater’s ability to bring this world to life until of course, the world-building took over and left the plot behind.
Ultimately, The Scorpio Races was too slow and boring for me to really enjoy the story, but I’ll leave you with Sara’s review here — she’s covered other grounds and would provide you with quite a different perspective. 🙂