Friday, March 1, 2013

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

I don’t remember why I picked up the CD Audio Book version of The Scorpio Races.  Maybe Sarah’s read-alike post for The Hunger Games was stuck in my mind, or I was planning ahead to have a young adult novel to discuss at the next meeting of Amy’s YA Fiction Addiction.  If I had known that Maggie Stiefvater, its author, had been compared to Stephenie Meyer, I probably would have put it back on the shelf.  So far I have resisted reading or viewing any of the Twilight series, but I’m glad The Scorpio Races found me.

Set off England on the rocky make-believe island of Thisby, The Scorpio Races tells a  story of capaill uisce, also known as water horses or kelpies, using the voices of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick in alternating chapters. The first person narratives are especially effective when listening to the audio version.  Puck and Sean have both been orphaned by the capaill uisce, fierce flesh-eating horses that rise from the sea in the fall.  Iron and holly help to control the water horses, who can have a hypnotic effect on riders.    Every November tourists come to Thisby to see and bet on the races; men capture and try to control water horses to ride in the races.  Sean has won the races for the last four years on a red capaill uisce that he yearns to own; by care and training Corr should belong to Sean.   By law Corr belongs to Sean’s employer, Benjamin Malvern, the wealthiest man on the island.

A woman has never ridden in the Scorpio Races.  Puck, in a desperate attempt to keep her older brother Gabriel from leaving Thisby for the mainland, declares she will enter the races.  If she wins the race, she’ll have enough money to pay off her landlord Benjamin Malvern, who is threatening to evict the Connollys.  Sean hopes to save enough money to use to buy Corr from Malvern.  Other minor characters, Puck’s brothers Finn and Gabe, Malvern’s villainous son Mutt, butcher’s wife Peg Gratton, American horse breeder George Holly and even Puck’s pony Dove and Sean’s Corr, are given enough depth to keep the story multidimensional.  I even care about what happens to Puffin, the cat.  The description of November cakes is so evocative, I wish Stiefvater had included a recipe.

Conflicts between Thisby’s pagan past and Catholic present, male and female roles, family dynamics between brothers and sisters and fathers and sons plus a slow developing romance between Sean and Puck keep the story moving.  Lyrical writing, fascinating characters and setting, when combined with the plot and narrator Steve West’s brogue as Sean, kept me listening. Fiona Hardingham’s reading as Puck was also excellent.  As good as the narrators were, Stiefvater’s skills as a writer still stood out more.

While many of Stiefvater’s books are in series, The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone.  It was a 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book for Children and received numerous other awards and nominations.  It is one the few books I have ever seen that has starred review from five major professional library journals:  BookList, Horn Book, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.  It deserves every accolade and more.

 - Michelle, Adult Services

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