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Book pick: ‘The Scorpio Races’ — a girl, a boy & water horses = magic October 23, 2011

Posted by Diana McCabe in News.

Maggie Stiefvater, author of the popular YA werewolf series SHIVER, waited a long time to write THE SCORPIO RACES, a novel about the legendary Celtic water horses that emerge from the sea each November to attack humans and other creatures.

She started to write it as a teen but it didn’t work. (Click here to read what she says about “Writing the book I always meant to”) Fast forward five books later and Stiefvater (pronounced “Steve-Otter”) — was ready.

It’s a magical, lyrical story about a boy, a girl and the capall uisce (pronounced “copple ookshka”) — flesh-eating equines that come from the sea to terrorize the townspeople of the fictional isle of Thisby. Only a few brave riders race the horses. Only a few riders survive.

Sean Kendrick, at 19, has won the race four times. He’s a kind of horse whisperer. A scrapper, who will never leave Thisby. He saw his father killed in the race when he was child. But he knows the capall uisce — in particular the water horse Corr.

And then we meet Puck Connolly, a girl whose parents were killed by the capall uisce but who loves horses. She — like Sean — has no intention of leaving Thisby, but her older brother does. And to gain some financial security for herself and other brother, she is determined to win this year’s race and becomes the first girl to enter.

THE SCORPIO RACES, like the SHIVER trilogy, shifts between Puck’s and Sean’s points of view. Puck is the feminist whose mom told her she “was born out of a bottle of vinegar instead of born from a womb.” Sean is the stoic. He rarely speaks to anyone but the capall uisce, whom he commands and trains with so much success that you wonder why he’s still working for the big man on the island. (The big man who has a snotty, spoiled son.)

Puck and Sean grow to know each other slowly and carefully. The romance that ensues is like the mood of the story — quiet, thoughtful, sweet. But in the end — both have specific reasons for wanting and needing to win the race. And Stiefvater doesn’t disappoint in the ending.

Maybe a girl never gets over her love of horses. I never have and maybe that’s why I treasured this story so much. But it’s more than that. Stiefvater’s writing is — well — so seamless and beautiful. It’s more eloquent than  the writing  in her SHIVER series, which I also enjoyed. Her attention to detail is graceful, even when describing how Puck eats an orange after a particularly harrowing event. Her descriptions of Thisby’s people, its rocky shoreline, blustery weather make you think maybe she’s set her story somewhere in Ireland. But you’re not sure. And you’re not positive when the story takes place but it’s probably in the early 20th century because the tourists wear bowler hats and Puck’s brother drives a Morris motor car.

It doesn’t matter where or when the story really takes place because you’re so swept away by Sean and Puck, Thisby — and the horses — that you just want to know how it all ends. While it’s a quiet tale — it’s still a thriller. I stayed up early into the morning to finish this one!

Stiefvater says she doesn’t have any plans to write a sequel to THE SCORPIO RACES. And that’s refreshing in this publishing day when it seems as if authors have to stretch a tale into at least a trilogy. This lovely story stands on its own.

(Don’t forget to check out Stiefvaters’ website. You’ll find out she’s not just a writer, but is a musician and for a time worked as a portrait artist, specializing in equestrian art.  She did the artwork and music for the video above.)


1. krissy phillips - October 23, 2011

I think I will have to check this one out. I liked the Shiver series and her fairy stories as well.

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