I finally, finally got to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I bought this baby in hardcover right after reading her Raven Boys series. Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s such a fantastic thing to read another book by an author you’ve read before and be able to see similarities in writing style and humour. I knew this book was going to be special in some way, so I decided to choose it for my next book review!
As always, I try not to spoil too much, but I will go a little further into the characters/general plot than the blurb would, so proceed with caution.
The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater (2011)
Every year around November, on the small island of Thisby, terrible beasts known as water horses emerge from the sea. They may resemble horses but are in fact bloodthirsty creatures to be feared. Men endeavour to trap and train these beasts, the capaill uisce, in order to participate in the event known only as The Scorpio Races.
“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”
“I’m perfectly still. The sun is red behind my eyelids. The ocean will not shift me and the cold will not take me.”
“When you traffic in monsters, that’s the risk you run, that you’ll find one too monstrous to stomach.”
What I liked:
- Writing style: The writing style was beautiful and a little dark at times, yet Stiefvater still finds a way to lace the story with funny, abstract moments that I really appreciated.I’m always a bit iffy with first person narrative, and in this case it took me a little while to get over, as the viewpoint swaps between the two main characters: Sean & Kate. However, both read like separate individuals, which definitely helped me to differentiate the two. The first person style was also employed quite well during the race scene, as it helped keep the action fast-paced and suspenseful.
- Pace: The pace seemed quite slow at first, largely due to the writing style being so poetic. It did feel as though not a lot was happening at first, but at the same time an atmosphere was being cultivated, so I could see there was a purpose for this. By page 100 the writing had settled into an easy rhythm and I found that I could become immersed into the story very quickly.
- Ideas & themes: Loved the use of Celtic myth as a basis for this story, and how little bits of the lore are sprinkled here and there. The characters act as though the Scorpio Races and the water horses are all just normal parts of their lives, whilst also being aware that their island is completely unique.The idea of residents of the island escaping and the effects this had on those left behind/the island’s economic situation and so forth was also really intriguing. The author illustrated quite a few different points of view from the people that still lived on the island; those that could never imagine leaving, those who were stuck, those who couldn’t bear to stay.Also really enjoyed the darker themes that Stiefvater employs in the book. The horses aren’t the traditional pretty magical ponies that are often written about, but rather monsters of the sea. It lifted the age group of the audience, whilst also adding some real tension to the story.
- Characters/relationships: At first I was definitely quite mixed about how I felt toward a lot of the characters. In the end though, I was definitely more on the side of love than hate. I liked the progression of Kate and Sean’s relationship, as well as their own personal development as characters, coming out of themselves. They were endearing and I really did want the best for them by the end of the novel.I loved that their relationship wasn’t insta-lovey or completely blind to the struggles and problems around them– another feature which helped the book feel a little bit more mature.Another notable mention should go toward the relationship between riders and their horses/sea horses. This was portrayed in a way that felt as though the author had really done her research, and that these relationships also spoke a lot for the individual characters’ personalities.
Another character worth an honourable mention is Finn, Kate’s younger brother. I thought he was interesting as a supporting character, since he fills in the position of a present family member when there are no others. It’s mentioned on various occasions that he has either OCD or anxiety related habits and yet the author doesn’t let these things represent his character. Finn is the voice of reason and simple truth at times when other characters are surrounded by too much chaos to see it, and is a sort of solid foundation in the story.
- Relationships/characters: My only remaining qualm by the end of the novel was really with Kate’s older brother Gabe. I felt that he only existed as a device for Kate to enter the races, and despite the author’s efforts to redeem him, I didn’t feel a lot of sympathy where he was concerned. As the story progressed, he sort of faded into the background for me. I definitely didn’t care about a lot of the main characters at first, but they slowly gained new depth as the story progressed, so overall I was pretty satisfied.
- Kate’s Motivation: As I mentioned with Gabe, Kate initially decides to enter the races as a last minute ploy to delay her brother leaving the island. It seems to be a total whim with little lead up, and it’s clear that Kate has even less reason to enter as her parents were killed by the water horses. Later on however, Kate is presented with an ultimatum that leads to her having no choice but to enter, and I feel that this would have worked better from the start. If the author had only introduced that plot device earlier, I would have been totally behind Kate instead of questioning her childishness a little bit. To be fair though, Kate is written in a way that let’s us know that whilst she can be child-like, she isn’t childish, and does fear for herself if she does indeed race.
- Murderous horses: I guess it was just a little hard to believe, what with so many people dying every year (not to mention the livestock), that the people of the island didn’t just erect a giant iron wall around their town to keep the murderous water horses out. Every time a heavy storm came, everyone had no choice but to hide in their houses and hope for the best :P.
I love any story that introduces some unique lore into a world where most fantasy books are about vampires and wizards. Upon finishing the book and reading the author’s notes I really just wanted to go online and read about more of the myths surrounding this idea of Water Horses. It was a little dark, poetic, with some great little injections of sharp humour. The majority of the supporting characters were functional and all played a part in progressing the story. A lovely, self contained stand alone novel that left me feeling satisfied.
Rating: ★★★★✩ (or 4.5 stars)