My dear readers (or reader, for more accuracy),
It has been quite a while since my last installment. Alas, I have been spending time with books of quite a different nature than those I review on this blog, which is both exciting and somewhat depressing, as I haven’t been getting my fix of escapist literature. But I am back, and for good reason: Maggie Steifvater’s The Scorpio Races.
The Scorpio Races tracks the parallel stories of Kate “Puck” Connolly and Sean Kendrick who are entered into an annual race involving monstrous carnivorous water horses, the capaill uisce (CAP-ul ISH-kuh), that emerge from the sea once a year on the island of Thisby. Both the island and the story are mysteriously out of time—Thisby has cars and radios, but no cell phones or internet—and out of place, attached to a vague mainland that seems something like Ireland. The island, the horses, and the race are fickle and volatile influences for Sean and Puck: they bring the greatest moments of joy in measure with unparalleled tragedy.
Steifvater, best known for her Shiver trilogy, provides an excellently paced and tightly written story in The Scorpio Races, in a story that is wholly original and unmatched by her previous writings. Her two main characters, Puck, in particular, are fully realized in a confident yet sparsely written manner. She provides us with meaningful details without overdoing it and she manages to tell a violent tale without letting the violence overpower the story.
While told from the perspectives of Puck and Sean, the novel is filled with memorable characters of both the two and four-legged variety. No stranger to describing animals as characters (i.e. Shiver trilogy), Stiefvater’s descriptions of the monstrous horses that captivate as they mutilate haunt the shoreline of the novel’s imaginary island: “Froth drips down their lips and chests, looking like sea foam, hiding the teeth that will tear into men later. They are beautiful and deadly, loving us and hating us.” Kendrick’s horse, Corr, is the heart of the depiction of the capaill uisce, and the relationship between horse and rider weighs as significantly as those between people.
One of the best things about this story, in my opinion, is the fact that I can end a review without saying “this is the first book in a planned trilogy.” The book stands alone, it needs no addendum.
Why you might love this book: Haunting and perfectly paced, a wonderful story with unforgettable characters.
Why you might not love this book: Equinophobia (fear of horses).
Rating: Five out of five black cats.
Publisher: Scholastic Press (October 2011)