The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, was published in 2011 by Scholastic.
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connelly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition—the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
The Scorpio Races reminds me of The Black Stallion because at its heart it’s about a boy who loves a horse, and a horse who loves a boy. There’s a lot of beauty in the book, because Stiefvater is at her best a beautiful writer, and the ending is so beautiful that it made me tear up. It’s beautiful because it’s about hard-won love, and love that conquers ferocity and wildness and makes people better because of it.
However, despite its beauty and the ending, the book isn’t perfect. I thought it dragged in the middle, perhaps because I was impatient for all the build-up to end and the race to begin, and it’s obvious from the beginning who’s going to win the race. There’s also the obvious romance, though it’s built up better than most and adds rather than takes away from the central focus of the race.
I suppose my quibble about knowing who will win the race is a bit off the mark. Really, the book is more than just about who won the race—like I mentioned above, it’s about a boy and his horse, and it’s also about family and surviving against all odds and doing something unpopular because it’s necessary. But, still—it took some of the suspense out, anyway!
Also, Stiefvater’s writing is beautiful—but only in small doses. Her writing tends to get away from her and becomes loose and floating and almost abstract. And I still prefer her dialogue to her descriptions, as I did with The Dream Thieves. Her descriptions tend to get weird and start to smack of “trying too hard.”
Rating: 4/5 (but, so, so close to a 5! Like a 4.5!)
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some bullying, crude comments, kissing.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Realistic
There’s a girl on the beach.
The wind’s torn the mist to shreds here by the ocean, so unlike on the rest of the island, the horses and their riders appear in sharp relief down on the sand. I can see the buckle on every bridle, the tassel on every rein, the tremor in every hand. It is the second day of training, and it’s the first day that it isn’t a game. This first week of training is an elaborate bloody dance where the dance partners determine how strong the other ones are. It’s when riders learn if charms will work on their mounts, how close to the sea is too close, how they can begin to convince their water horses to gallop in a straight line. How long they have between falling from their horses and being attacked. This tense courtship looks nothing like racing.
At first I see nothing out of the ordinary. There is the surviving Privett brother beating his gray capall with a switch and Hale selling charms that will not save you, and there is Tommy Falk flapping at the end of the lead as his black mare strains for the salt water.
And there is the girl. When I first see her and her dun mare from my vantage point on the cliff road, I am struck first not by the fact that she is a girl, but by the fact that she’s in the ocean. It’s the dreaded second day, the day when people start to die, and no one will get close to the surf. But there she is, trotting up to the knee in the water. Fearless.
The Scorpio Races is, at its heart, a beautiful book about the relationship between a horse and a boy, a la The Black Stallion. There are a few bobbles here and there—the middle drags, the outcome of the race is obvious, and I am not a fan of Stiefvater’s writing taken in large chunks—but the ending made me cry, and I do think this is my favorite Stiefvater novel. And possibly her best.
You can buy this here: The Scorpio Races