The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater

So I have never read Maggie Stiefvater before. Despite the lovely trailers and generally good reviews, I just haven’t been interested in the teenagers and werewolves or the teenagers and the faerie. But, killer seahorses? I am interested in that. I picked up a copy of The Scorpio Races as BEA, and still, for some reason or another, I held off on reading the book until the reviews started to trickle in and everyone whose taste I trust loved this book. Finally, finally, I started to read it, and was so happy to find that it lived up to all the hype. I loved this one.
The Premise: Every November on the wild and remote island of Thisby, there is a race. Every year, tourists and locals watch riders race deadly water horses known as the capaill uisce on a small strip of beach. And every year, someone dies. The Scorpio Races can mean a lot of money if you are lucky and skilled enough to win, but injury, or more likely, death, occurs for the not-so-blessed. For three of the last four years, Sean Kendrick has won the race for his employer, Benjamin Malvern, the most wealthy man on the island. Sean’s father died at the races, but Sean has worked at the stables since he was ten and is the island expert when it comes to the capaill uisce.  This year, Puck Connolly has also decided to join the race, even though she never had an interest in the races nor any love for the creatures responsible for her parents’ deaths. No interest until her brother Gabe announced his intention to leave the island, making Puck desperate for any excuse to keep him around. Puck has no experience, no capall uisce, and no idea what she is in for.
My Thoughts: The Scorpio Races begins with a prologue where Sean Kendrick is a ten year old boy who watches as his father is trampled in the annual races. The images of crowds of men and flesh-eating capaill uisce, then his father’s body lying on the beach are violent and memorable. Sean’s reaction, that fear was his father’s mistake, lingered in my mind long afterward. Clearly, Thisby is not a place for the weak of heart.
The island is a harsh and unyielding locale, and those who live on Thisby are no strangers to death and heartache. People often move to the mainland, where work is safer and more profitable. Sean lost his mother to the mainland, and his father to the Races, and has been working at the Malvern stables ever since. A man of little words, Sean keeps to himself but is respected for his way with the uisce and for being the returning champion. There is only one living thing he really loves: Corr, the water horse that he rides for his employer. On another part of the island, Puck Connolly elks out a meager living with her older brother Gabe and younger brother Finn. Her story has a similar tale of loss – both her parents were out fishing when they were killed by the uisce. Puck just wants to keep what’s left of her family together, but making a decent living is hard, and Gabe wants to leave. That’s when desperation takes over and Puck announces she’ll be riding in the Races.
The story takes its time, alternating viewpoints between Sean and Puck. Usually, I am not a great fan of alternating viewpoints but in The Scorpio Races it was done very well. I loved how this place is reflected in Sean and Puck’s characters and in so many people in Thisby. This wasn’t a story where I’m told something is dangerous but nothing dangerous ever happened. No, here, people die, bad things happen, and you hold your breath while reading because the story is often a hairbreadth away from something awful. The capaill uisce are the real deal. Yet, these terrifying creatures are a part of Thisby – the only place in the world where these creatures come to shore. Sean muses that it is because this is the only place where they are loved. I think that Stiefvater succeeds in creating an atmospheric setting, one that feels magical but also very real and dangerous, but also made me believe people would pick the island and flesh-eating water horses over safety.
As Sean and Puck prepare for the races, their reasons for wanting to win become more serious, and both have big obstacles in their way. I won’t get into these reasons or obstacles, but let me say: I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win more. And as they meet and get to know each other, I don’t think Sean and Puck know who they want to win either. Along the way, they’ve begun an attachment that is of the quiet but deep variety. Theirs is a romance of little words but their gestures speak volumes. A single touch or a family dinner carries great meaning and had me swept up in their relationship. When Sean does speak and make his move, it hits you like a ton of bricks.
All of this atmosphere and quiet romance and struggle culminates in one thing: the Scorpio Races themselves. This is the part of the story where I was feverishly flipping the pages, and it is over quickly, but oh, is it awesome. I finished off this story with a mix of elation and contentment.
Overall: The Scorpio Races is quiet perfection. It was one of my top reads of last year (honestly, it ties for number one). This is an incredibly well-crafted tale set in a fierce and beautiful island, with just the right touch of the otherworldly and steadfast characters that persevere. It’s a story that is thoughtful and gradually builds up it’s characters and relationships, and it’s not for those that require instant gratification. My kind of story.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Angieville – “perfect”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “One of my favorite books read this year”
The Book Smugglers –  8- Excellent and leaning toward 9
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
Jane of All Reads – positive
Book Harbinger – “in the running for my favorite book of the year”
Book Trailer:

13 thoughts on “The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

  1. Beautiful review 🙂

    I still have this one on my shelf and I haven’t touched it. *shame* But I do know that this was the book that Maggie Stiefvate always wanted to read and therefore had to write. I’m glad it doesn’t disappoint!

    • Thanks! This was a tough one to write – I liked it so much I didn’t want to mess it up. 🙂

      Oh man, I loved this one. So my kind of book with the gradual getting to know the characters and the slow burn romance. Right down my alley there, but not for everyone unfortunately. I was somewhat bummed to see negative reviews on goodreads because of the very pace that I *loved*.

  2. “And when Sean does make his move, it hits you like a ton of bricks.”=> Yes! I need to reread this just to experience that again. 🙂 I’m glad that when you did pick it up it paid off. I agree with Angie’s assessment. Such an excellent book. Nice review.

  3. Yay, it makes me happy that you fell in love with this too! I loved Sean, Puck and Thisby. And Sean’s lines? They are amazing. That boy sure knows how to pick his words.♥

    I really think this is Maggie Stiefvater’s best novel but it did make me curious about her backlist so I might read Linger and Forever soon (also because I already have copies).

    • Yes, makes me curious too. I will probably pick up the series that has BALLAD in it. I got sent a copy of BALLAD, but I haven’t read the book (s?) before it (LAMENT?) — I have to look into the series order.

      • Yep, Lament comes before Ballad. That’s her faery series and she’s writing the third (and I think final?) book right now. I liked both, more than other YA paranormal romance novels that I’ve read but didn’t love it as much as The Scorpio Races. I read Shiver and liked where it ended so I put off reading the sequels.

  4. I bought this a couple of weeks ago because of all the glowing reviews and yours on top of them makes me want to read it all the more. Lovely review by the way. (:

  5. Pingback: Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater « Bunbury in the Stacks

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