The Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by Scholastic on October 18th 2011
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 409

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.

5 Stars

The Scorpio Races is a beautifully written novel inspired by Celtic mythology. The book will pull you in with a luscious setting, engaging characters, and a touching storyline about homeland, family bonds, and (equine) friendship.

The Scorpio Races’s storyline follows two contenders in the famous but dangerous Scorpio races which take place every November on a little Irish-inspired island called Thisby. The races have a unique twist, inspired by Celtic mythology, as the races are run on the infamous, flesh-eating water horses, the capaill uisce (perhaps also known to some of you as kelpies).

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

Orphaned Kate “Puck” Connolly has never run in the Scorpio races before. Having lost their parents to the capaill uisce at sea, the Connolly siblings are left to fend for themselves. With the threat of eviction hanging over their head, Puck decides to participate for the prize winnings. Not only is she the first woman to contend, she is also the first rider to bring a common horse to a race traditionally won on mystical water horses. Puck is a determined, feisty, but caring character who will win you over in a heartbeat.

“My mother always said that I was born out of a bottle of vinegar instead of born from a womb and that she and my father bathed me in sugar for three days to wash it off. I try to behave, but I always go back to the vinegar.”

Puck undergoes a tremendous character development, strengthened by the bonds to her horse, Dove, and Sean. The incredibly relatable character she is, Puck will take you on a quest for survival, self-discovery, and to prove that women belong in the Scorpio races just as much as men do.

Her expression is fierce and uncompromising, full of the intrepid bravery of a small boat in an uncertain sea.

Sean Kendrick and his blood-red capall uisce, Corr, have won the races four times. Highly experienced and passionate about the lethal water horses, Sean is not only a celebrity on Thisby, he is also an expert in the species’ training and handling. The Scorpio races are not mere races for him: They’re about knowledge, they’re about tactics, but most of all, they’re about the sound of the sea in his ears, the rough wind in his hair, and the energy of his water horse coursing through his blood. It’s about passion, not competition. Hidden beneath his rough edges are a gentle soul, a cunning mind, and a lonely heart. (In brief, Sean Kendrick is an Irish dreamboat).

“What it’s like is a battle. A mess of horses and men and blood. The fastest and strongest of what is left from two weeks of preparation on the sand. It’s the surf in your face, the deadly magic of November on your skin, the Scorpio drums in the place of your heartbeat. It’s speed, if you’re lucky. It’s life and it’s death or it’s both, and there’s nothing like it.”

Both Puck and Sean contend in the races with a lot to win but everything to lose.

The novel has a lot to offer besides the two main characters with their sizzling chemistry. Those of you who’re familiar with Maggie Stiefvater’s work know that her writing wins half the game. It’s like an inked dance on paper, words twirling into beautiful, rich-in-meaning phrases. Her writing is scattered with imaginative metaphors and lush descriptions of the setting. Maggie tackles the obvious themes, such as family and romance, but she also addresses the fierce competition in the races, and how envy can turn ugly when there’s a lot to lose. Further, and much to my surprise, there’s a subtle inclusion of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (”Where’s Finn?” I break in. – “Washing his hands, of course,” Gabe says. “It may be decades.”).

Although the storyline mainly focuses on the preparations for the race, more than on the race itself, the plot never grew boring or repetitive. On the contrary, Maggie Stiefvater proves that it doesn’t take a lot of parallel storylines, magical elements, and plot twists to write a formidable book. The Scorpio Races is a character-driven novel which is more about what happens on the inside than on the outside. Do not read the book expecting to get an action-packed plot with mind-blowing twists. The book makes promises of blood and death and racing, and while it certainly keeps those promises, the core of the book is not really about the races at all. This book is about love: Love for other human beings, love for equine companions, and love for one’s homeland, even if it’s a small, godforsaken island in a rough sea.

“Does anyone ask you why you stay, Sean Kendrick?”
“They do.”
“And why do you?”
“The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr.”

The Celtic-inspired capaill uisce, the subtle but heart-stopping romance, and the steady build-up of tension before the Scorpio races make for a wonderful, gripping read. Highly recommended.