Review: THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Page Count: 416
Release Date: October 18th, 2011

the-scorpio-races-by-maggie-stiefvaterI was first introduced to Maggie Stiefvater’s work when I read THE RAVEN CYCLE a few years ago. I was surprised by how utterly entranced I was with this relatively grounded world and characters, where the magic is more unassuming and ethereal. I finally pushed one of her earlier works, THE SCORPIO RACES, to the top of my reading queue, encouraged by some fine folks doing a read-along on Twitter. I’m happy to say that it was worth the read – fans of Ms. Stiefvater’s more grounded worlds will find a lot to enjoy!

THE SCORPIO RACES takes place on the fictional Earth locale of Thisby, an island vaguely Irish or Scottish in its aesthetic, during an unspecified era (I estimated 1930s or 40s).  This island’s life blood is its connection to the water horses, vicious creatures that live in the ocean and occasionally beach as stronger versions of their land-locked brethren. Those brave enough to catch a water horse and train it are allowed to participate in the annual Scorpio Race that occurs on the first of November.  It’s a deadly sport that often claims multiple casualties, but it’s rooted in tradition as old as the island itself.  It’s a tradition that’s going to be bucked when Puck Connelly becomes the first female to enter the race. Among Puck’s few allies are Sean Kendrick, four-time winner of the Scorpio Races.  Sean is racing again this year, but he sees in Puck a kindred spirit that he can’t help but be drawn to.

If you’ve read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s works before, you’ll definitely notice her writing style here.  Her writing is both plain and elegant, able to paint the setting in a way that makes you smell the salt air and feel the sand shifting under your feet, that makes you feel that same connection to the island of Thisby that the protagonists do.  It’s a writing style that moves at a deliberate pace, and some may bounce off of it.  Those who don’t will find their patience rewarded in the finale, when the race is finally run.  There’s a lot of emotions wrapped up in those last 40 or so pages.

But Stiefvater’s stories really get their hooks into you because she writes characters that are so real and ordinary that you wouldn’t be surprised to greet them on the street. They don’t have a grand destiny, they are just scraping by in life.  The dash of a magical element is just the spice for a coming-of-age tale. The realness of her characters is what makes you root for them, but also what causes her villains to hit so close to home.  Her villains aren’t ancient evils plotting to subjugate a kingdom. It’s just an insecure young man taking his anger out on the person that’s close at hand. And when the object of his vitriol pretends to take no notice of his words, that insecure young man is moved to violence. It’s a tale as old as time, and, sadly, one that is still oh so relevant today.

THE SCORPIO RACES is a quiet, at times brutal, coming of age story.  I am someone who generally likes her fantasy novels to come with explosions and the clashing of swords, yet once again I found myself entranced by Stiefvater’s words.  If you’re looking for a book where you can snuggle up against the ocean winds and watch two lost souls struggle to figure out their lives, with just a hint of the fantastical, look no further!

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