The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Lynn: Stiefvater kicks off  The Scorpio Races (Scholastic 2011) with one of the most attention-grabbing sentences of the year:

“It was the first of November and so, today, someone would die.”

Find me one soul who could put the book down after that opening!  Stiefvater doesn’t make it any easier to stop reading after that either.  First she creates and describes a place so vividly that atlases will be consulted.  Secondly she develops characters who thrust their way into our hearts.  We KNOW these people and we can’t stop thinking about any of them – from the main protagonists right down the the most minor secondary character.  And then there is the plot that maintains a sense of mounting dread and an urgency that never flags.

Thisby Island is a stark and brutal place.  The humans hang on but life is a battle every day.  Not only are jobs scarce  – the young people are fleeing to the mainland in droves – but basic survival is always in doubt.  The sea takes it’s share of of fishermen and travelers but it also holds an unusual threat.  The waters around Thisby teem with fierce water horses, the capaill uisce, carnivores who lunge from the waves to prey on the unwary and terrorize the island on storm nights.  For the brave hardy souls who can capture and control them though, there are riches to be had.  Larger and faster than horses, the capaill uisce, are used for the legendary Scorpio Races in November that draw throngs of enthusiasts to the island.  The purse is fat and winning it can mean having a future but the risk is huge.  In November people die racing on the beaches of Thisby, killed by the very creatures who carry them.  The narrative alternates between two young racers, Katherine”Puck” Connolly who races to save her house from foreclosure and keep her brother from leaving the island, and Sean Kendrick, 4-time winner of the Scorpio Races.  Sean races to buy the capaill uisce he loves from the greedy owner he works for and to start his own stable.  Fiercely independent and determined, Kate and Sean fall in love and their relationship both strengthens and weakens their chances of winning.

As romantic as it is terrifying, the story crescendos to a heart-pounding finish that is both powerful and satisfyingly right.  I listened to this on audio while I exercised and the terrifically crafted story and outstanding production was responsible for keeping me walking on that miserable treadmill for MILES longer than I usually do.  My heart and blood pressure thank you, Maggie Stiefvater!

Cindy: I’m not a “horse girl” so I had shied away from this book in my pile, but I could not ignore the mounting starred reviews, best of the year lists, and praise I was hearing about it. Stiefvater’s story is just what I needed this cold, cruel January. Puck is a contrary girl who won my affection, although she probably could care less if she got it or not! This is a horse story, but so much more. Puck riding her small bay on a dangerous beach with carnivorous horses in a race in which no one wants a girl to compete may be the main event, but the story that takes us there is well worth the ride. The pace of the tale follows the pace of the race…a slow start…some daring moves, some tragedy, and a furious race to the finish.

I am so very tired of paranormal romances that I could go all “Puck” on you just thinking about it. But this one is fresh, unique, and the setting of Thisby is a character as surely as Puck and Sean and the fabulous cast of secondary characters are. The relationship between Puck and Sean develops in a natural and satisfying way. I care about these people. If you’d like a real treat (besides the one waiting for you in the pages of this novel), head to Stiefvater’s website. There you’ll find a fabulous photograph slide show of Maggie on location researching her setting. The photos of the cliffs and rocky narrow beaches are stunning. And there’s a book trailer with Stiefvater’s artwork animation and her own music you can use to promote the book with your teens. Did I mention the recipe for Maggie’s November Cakes?  Lynn improved her physical health and I’ve improved my mental health–I’m in a better mood already just thinking about this atmospheric well-written book.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater"

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  1. mosylu@gmail.com' Bibliovore says:

    Oooo! This one is coming up very soon for me. Glad to hear you guys liked it, but that’s what I’ve been hearing everywhere.

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