Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Horses at Popham Beach, Maine
Usually I prefer realistic fiction and dislike horror, so a young adult novel about killer horses should not be my type. Carnivorous horses from the sea: seriously? Still, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater was a Printz Honor and an ALA Notable Book for 2012. It had received a constellation of starred reviews. I’d read another novel, Shiver, by this author and had admired the writing if not the werewolves. With some trepidation, I picked up this employee-recommended book at the Harvard Book Store. I could not put it down.

The Scorpio Races read like an old classic with a feminist update. About to be evicted from her family home, Puck is desperate enough to be the first girl to sign up for the Scorpio race. Every November, islanders catch magically fast horses from the sea. The losers often die in the attempt to tame their vicious mounts. Nineteen-year-old Sean is the reigning champion and stuck working for a cruel boss at the island stable. Winning one more race could bring freedom for himself and his beloved water stallion, Corr.

In this passage, Puck observes Sean’s character in how he wraps Corr’s legs:
 “There’s something rewarding about watching a job well done, or at least a job done with everything you’ve got. I try to put my finger on how it is that Sean Kendrick seems so different to other people, what it is about him that makes him seem so intense and still at the same time, and I think, finally that it’s something about hesitation. Most people hesitate between steps or pause or are somehow uneven about the process. Whether that process is wrapping a leg or eating a sandwich or just living life. But with Sean, there’s never a move he’s not sure of, even if it means not moving at all.” 
Puck and Sean narrate in alternating points of view. Both were very likable, complex and well-developed characters, but it seemed unlikely that barely educated teens on a remote island would sound so poetic. Had the chapters not been labeled, their voices would have been indistinguishable from each other. Third person narration would have been a better choice. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the lyrical writing and the wonderful sense of place.

Cornwall, England
As described by Sean, Skarmouth Island is timeless:
 “As I walk, I look past the people at the town that stands beneath them. The stones are gold and red in the streetlights, the shadows black and brown and deep death blue, all the colors of the November ocean. Bicycles lie up against the walls as if a wave has washed them there and then retreated. Girls push by me, their strides ringing from the bells tied around their ankles. Firelight flickers from one of the side streets, flames licking from a barrel, boys gathered around it. I look at Skarmouth and it looks back at me, its eyes wild.” 
After finishing The Scorpio Races, I longed to return to Skarmouth Island, to gallop along the cliffs by moonlight. As in the best myths, the tale was innocent enough for a ten-year-old child (if a bit gory) but complex enough for an adult too. Stiefvater is one of the best storytellers of young adult fiction. Take this one to the beach and enjoy.


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@Barrie Summy

8 comments:

Barrie said...

This is in my tbr pile, so I was happy to see you were reviewing it. I owe you an email. I'll get to it! ;)

A Cuban In London said...

A book review with the word Scorpio in it and a photo of Cornwall. What's not to like? I, too, have grown distant from horror. So, despite your great post, I'm still in two minds. However, knowing that the book can appeal both to a ten-year-old and adults is enough to congratulate the author. Tough trick to pull off!

Greetings from London.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

What an interesting concept!
I definitely need to read a Maggie Stiefvater novel!

Thanks for the review! I love a new classic!

Donna said...

This sounds like a very interesting story! I'll have to add it to my list. I'm glad you enjoyed it when you weren't sure if you would. It's so nice when a book pleasantly surprises!

troutbirder said...

Mmmmm. Well interesting characters and well written descriptions of unusual places can go a long way....

Nantucket Daffodil said...

As summer nears...and I have 11 fabulous weeks to read and garden...can't wait to read this book! Thanks for the suggestion....

Carol said...

My, this sounds intriguing Sarah . . . such poetic thoughts for one so young . . . then what might we expect from a young man who can tame a mystical horse. I love horses and the image you conjure up of galloping across a beach in the moonlight sounds fantastic!

Amanda said...

sounds like an unusual mix, with the poetic voice in a horror genre.