Synopsis, courtesy of the author’s website:
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.
A horse of a different color…
I have to say, this book is unlike any other YA fantasy novel I’ve ever read. The idea of water horses is pretty unique in the YA world…especially the idea of malevolent, flesh-eating water horses that are ridden by fame-hungry young men in a death-defying race along the dangerous November beach. The mythology of these creatures, called capaill uisce (more on the name in a moment), is well done. You can really see these lithe, lethal beasts; and you learn, much like Puck, to cautiously love them.
The romance in this book was also refreshing. It is slow to develop, and sits more comfortably than most romances in YA. What I mean by that is, their romance is not founded on physical attraction at all, really, and develops through a slow-building sense of mutual respect. It feels very mature, which is something I haven’t felt about YA romances for a long time. I admired their respect for one another as competitors and riders. Their relationship was interesting enough to keep me going, even when parts of the of the story were not.
Which leads me to…
Despite the well-crafted mythology and unique relationship portrayal, there were several disappointing aspects to this title. First of all, a small though potent annoyance: the capaill uisce, or capall uisce in singular form. When the creatures are first introduced, their name is tossed around without any explanation. I noticed the difference in spelling between capaill and capall immediately, but thought it was a typo at first. A more careful reading led me to believe one was singular (capall) and the other plural.
However, it isn’t until chapter thirteen that we get any sort of guidance on the pronunciation and usage of their name. And even then, it seems like a forced, editor-induced explanation. I don’t know about you, but not knowing how to pronounce the name of something in a book is one of my major pet peeves. But maybe I shouldn’t expect an author with a name I can’t pronounce to be super generous in providing guidance to names in her stories.
The more important complaint is on the pacing. Really, the book didn’t grab me until about half-way through, when a deadly storm comes crashing down on the island. Luckily, I liked Sean enough to keep going, even when I was irritated by Puck and her whining; and their romance, like I said, was sweet enough to keep me reading. But, the poor pacing left me sighing as I picked up the book to read more than it left be breathless putting it down.
Since the title of the book is based on the Scorpio Races, you’d think that most of the book would be about the race…or would at least get you to them quickly. Not the case. Of course, Puck and Sean must sign up for them (not without some trouble on Puck’s end), and there’s a creepy blood-oath initiation. But the races themselves don’t come until the very end of the book–and then, it’s a whopping five minutes long. I don’t know what led me to believe the race would be a bit more dramatic than five minutes, but I was disappointed.
I was also a tad confused about the time. There were hints that the story could be set in a modern world (with cars, and whatnot), but there was also a sense that it took place in, say, the 1920’s with the description of the American, George Holly. At the very beginning, it even smacks a bit of being out of time completely–an other-worldly, possibly dystopian, possibly imaginary time. The confusion wasn’t so jarring as to be distracting, but it did leave me wondering–and not in a good way.
Maggie & Me: It’s Complicated.
This isn’t the first book by Maggie Stiefvater I’ve been disappointed by. In fact, I despised her best-selling pseudo-werewolf series. (Ok, in all fairness, I only trudged through Shiver, and hated it enough to have zero interest in the next two. My fellow Yaketys swear the second two books are better, but I’m not convinced.)
I picked up Scorpio Races because I’d heard it was being made into a movie, and I wanted to give Stiefvater another chance. I’m glad I did, mostly, because I really do like her writing. She’s a strong writer, with a well-developed sense of place and an interesting take on mythology. I like her imagination and think she’s skilled. I just don’t like her enough to pick up Linger.
For the record, I loved her reasoning for writing Scorpio Races, as detailed on her website! She’s also a pretty awesome artist, which is cool.
By the way, I happened upon the UK version of the cover and I think it’s stunning…so here it is!