Not Your Usual Day on the Beach

Maggie Stiefvater’s new book The Scorpio Races may be a young adult fantasy, but it has everything I look for in serious adult fiction. Stiefvater takes the various Irish and Scottish myths about water horses and turns them into a page-turning, atmospheric novel.

In the book, the capaill uisce are dangerous, flesh-eating horses that emerge from the sea in November and can be captured by humans. Stiefvater creates the island of Thisby, a wind-swept place where life only flourishes because of the attention given to the annual Scorpio races, where riders compete in a dangerous mad dash on the beach on the back of capaill uisce who would just as soon kill each other,  eat their riders, and dive back into the sea.

The story alternates between two points of view. Puck Connolly is a girl whose parents were killed by the water horses. Her older brother Gabe has been providing Puck and her somewhat OCD brother Finn with a meager living, but now Gabe’s off for the mainland, running away to a better life for himself just as the mortgage payments to the island’s main landowner, the stable owner Malvern, are due. To save her home and to try to keep Gabe on the island, Puck decides to enter the Scorpio Races, but face with sexist traditions and hostile male competitor’s, she,s forced to race on her speedy mare Dove instead of a water horse.

The other point of view is that of Sean Kendrick. He’s the four-time winner of the Scorpio Races, and the best worker in Malvern’s stables, but all he wants is to buy Corr, his capall uisge mount, and find his own small island life. Malvern can’t afford to lose him, especially given the consistent failure of his own malicious son Mutt, who is out-of-his-head jealous at Sean’s consistent successes.

There’s plenty of plot here, two wonderful lead characters, a fine cast of villains and island eccentrics, and a magnificent sense of atmosphere that makes it easy to set aside any disbelief at the fantastic premise. By the time I finished the novel, Thisby and its strange races felt very real to me.

This book will resonate with anyone who comes from a small, beloved hometown where there isn’t any real future. Horse lovers will be in heaven. There’s a hearty dash of romance mixed in to the action as well. Book groups should make sure that they take time to explore the many surrounding myths of Scottish kelpies or each uisge, Irish water horses, Manx cabbyl-ushtey, Swedish backähästen, or Icelandic nykur.

What are you still reading this for? Get yourself off to the Races.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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