22 May 2012

Review 36: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

"Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible. When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the horses. Even if they stay together, can they stay alive?"

First Line: 'It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.'

I'm a little torn about this in a very similar way to how I felt about Delirium by Lauren Oliver recently. The writing is carefully crafted and atmospheric but the pacing is off and the book takes too long to get going. The characters are largely appealing and the concept is refreshingly unique for the young adult market but I think the horsey focus put me off a little, as I'm not a big animal lover. I imagine that this will go down a treat with some teenager readers.

Why I read it: I bought it for my husband after seeing it on the Cannonball group blog, who took it on holiday with us to Iceland where I read it after I finished the books I brought with me.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of earthy, gritty books rather than high tech, futuristic worlds who like a strong heroine and difficult decisions.

The Scorpio Races is the story of Puck and Sean. Puck, or Kate, Connolly has lived on the island of Thisby her whole life. After the death of her parents her and her two brothers struggle to make ends meet on the grim and insular Thisby. Every year on Thisby there is an event known as The Scorpio Races that draws the tourists from the mainland for its dark rituals and bloodshed. The races are when islanders capture the capaill uisce, the bloodthirsty water horses that populate the sea around the island. The water horses venture up to satiate their desire for blood and the capturing, training and racing of them is a dangerous business, every year racers die as the horses fight against their human riders for blood and to return to the sea. Historically, the racers have only been men, but Puck enters with her land pony as a last ditch attempt to save her family.

Sean is a loner who lost his father to the water horses when he was a boy. He works for the island's main landowner, Malvern, who takes advantage of his desire to simply care for and race the most dangerous water horse on the island, Corr. Corr is owned by Malvern who will not sell him to Sean so that Sean cannot leave his stables as Sean's ability to capture water horses and to train both water and land horses brings in the big investments from breeders and riders.

The novel is told in alternating perspectives from Puck and Sean as they prepare for the races. Stiefvater's writing is incredibly atmospheric and Thisby is a grim and dark place with a tight knit and judgmental community who try to stop Puck from entering. There is a scene where a water horses emerges at the Connolly house whilst Puck and her younger brother, Finn, are outside which I found truly unnerving. The water horses are a sinister creation that Stiefvater has created from a variety of water horse myths. I did feel as though there a few unanswered questions such as what keeps the water horses in only Thisby's waters and why they are never taken to the mainland, or how they were first caught and raced but these aren't very problematic.

Puck is a strong, brave heroine despite her sometimes very headstrong decisions and Sean is an appealing lead, albeit prone to moodiness. I must admit, I could have done with a little more lightness at times. The only really light moments are with her lovely little brother Finn who is super endearing. Predictably, a romance does develop between Puck and Sean and I felt that this was a little unnecessary. I would have enjoyed the relationship building between them to have been just platonic but it is fairly understated and is not the main focus of the story.

Ultimately, the real strength of this book is Stiefvater's wonderful writing which is engaging and affecting. I could have done with the story getting started faster though, however strong the description is. It is also good to read a standalone young adult novel as well and to get some level of closure at the end.

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