Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Fantasy Pick: The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Steifvater
Magical, lyrical, beautiful, and romantic, The Scorpio Races is unlike any other young adult novel. The prose sings itself off the page--Stiefvater is at her poetic best in this novel, her voice has never been stronger nor her writing more fierce and taut. The island setting is not only beautiful but dangerously alluring. The setting, in fact, is a character in this novel and controls both the tight plot and the threateningly ominous tone.
The Scorpio Races happen every year in November in Thisby, a small coastal town known for its brutal winter weather, battering storms from the sea, and for breeding the best horses money can buy. Some of the horses are real prizes--you see, every autumn, horses climb out of the surf, leave the sea, and run on the beach. If you're "lucky" enough to catch a capall (water horse), you will have to be very lucky to train him and keep him. They--the capaill uise--water horses--are wild and predatory, sly and cunning, huge and beastlike, but they run faster than the wind, and that is why men in Thisby long to race them and why they lay their hard earned money down to bet on which rider and horse will survive and win the race. People come from the mainland and all the way from America to see the races and to buy race horses from Benjamin Malvern, the richest breeder and landowner on the island.
Sean is a part of the island itself. He lives for the sea and the capaill--he was born to train horses like his father before him. His father was lost to the sea because of the races and now Sean works for Malvern in the stables. He knows the danger but never lets his guard down when it comes to one of the wild horses. He will ride a red capall named Corr in the races.
Puck (Kate Connelly is her given name) is a bit of a tomboy who is being raised along with her quirky brother Finn by her older serious brother Gabe. Puck rides her farm mare Dove and decides that she could win the Scorpio Races on Dove's back. She enters her name on the list to save her family's home--Mr. Malvern will foreclose on their property unless Puck wins the race. The whole town decides that she must be crazy--ride a little "pony" in a race with vicious capaill? A girl thinks she can beat men? A girl with no training on the back of a farm horse?
Puck won't back down even though men try to twist the rules to say that only men can race--it doesn't say that in the rules--it says "riders." Sean comes to her defense. He sees Puck training Dove and offers to ride with her and give her pointers. Puck decides she likes/dislikes Sean as much as he does her, but she's pig-headed and stubborn; she wants to prove she is a great rider, so she agrees. When both riders go to the beach where some wild water horses are training, Puck is afraid but won't admit it. They see a man killed by a water horse, and Puck regrets signing up.
A terrible storm reaches the island and water horses come ashore and off the beach up the hills towards homes. Puck and Finn escape with Dove and must leave their house. Sean saves Corr from a certain death and vows to beat Mutt Malvern (his boss's evil son) in the race. An American horse owner named George Holly becomes friendly with Sean and offers him a job in America training horses, but Sean is in love with the island and knows he could never leave Corr.
The race begins and it's terrifying, exciting, and brutal. Pages will turn at a heart-thumping pace in a race where one second can change everything in life, one movement, one twitch, one blink of an eye.
Magically entertaining, exciting and fast-paced, wretchedly horrifying at times, The Scorpio Races will haunt readers for days and weeks after finishing it. If Steven Spielberg gets his hands on this novel, the movie will be Hollywood magic! The capaill uise deserve to be brought to the silver screen by someone who can do them justice and Spielberg is my pick. Are you listening, Steven?
Blogger's Note: I almost missed this book. I had noticed it on the Scholastic Book Fair but passed on it due to the cover--I know, just like the kids--I judged the book by its cover! The cover did not appeal to me nor the premise of horses or racing, but when it showed up again and again on librarians' lists of best books for 2011, I found a copy and gave it a try. I was hooked! I enjoyed the Shiver trilogy and love Stiefvater's earlier work, but a book about horses just did not grab me.
Highly, highly recommended grades 7-up. This novel is not be missed! Some language--it is a horse racing town, after all. Language much worse can all be heard on prime time television. Violence and death in the race.
FTC Required Disclamer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.