I resisted reading The Scorpio Races. Despite the fact that many trusted readers recommended it, the Printz Award committee gave it an Honor Award, and I kept hearing buzz buzz buzz about it, I simply couldn’t get excited to read about races between water horses (whatever that meant) where some people were going to die.
I took horseback riding lessons as a girl and I do understand their appeal and mystique, but I wouldn’t consider myself a horse person in particular. Perhaps that’s because they actually kind of terrify me as an adult. When my daughter went through her own horse phase and took lessons, I hated taking the youngest boy through the stables amidst all the warning signs that went against a small boy’s nature: Do not startle the horses! Do not make loud noises near the horses! Do not come at this horse from that direction or that other horse from the other one! Do not even think about the horses or they will freak and stampede! (I can’t remember the signs verbatim, but it was something along those lines)
Those skittish but powerful animals are gentle little lovies compared to the capall uisce (pronounced CAPple ISHka).
Also, in my experience, horse stories have incredible animal cruelty scenes. I might be scared of them, but I don’t want them tortured or hurt. Well, The Scorpio Races fulfills this expectation. Even though the horses haven’t been innocent throughout the story, there are some seriously vicious crimes against them.
But I finally started reading it. And thought, huh, this is weird. I’d never heard any legends about dangerous blood-thirsty fairy horses and I just couldn’t quite conceptualize these capall uisce. On the island of Thisby, these water horses – even bigger and faster than ordinary horses and hunters besides – climb out of the sea and wreak a little havoc eating dogs and sheep, and people occasionally.
I’m so glad I kept going. I ended up loving it oh so much. This one will haunt me for quite awhile.
A few thoughts:
- The writing is gorgeous and lyrical – almost musical. The tone is spot-on perfect for the story.
- Incredible world building. By the end, I was completely sucked in and believing it completely. It didn’t feel like fantasy at all.
- It’s about so much more than the races or the horses. It’s about survival, economics, complex family relationships and love.
- I’d recommend it to both male and female readers. And, to a wide age range. It’s a great book for smart readers who are ready for a more complex story but don’t want all the YA issue weight.
- The love story is subtle and simple – which makes it entirely appropriate for readers of all ages – they can read as much or as little into the tender moments as personally desired.
The Scorpio Races is told through alternating points of view: Sean, (the male rider who loves the water horses and is the expert jockey and horse man) and Kate, called Puck (the young female racer who will ride her own horse amidst the animals who see her and her horse as bait in a desperate attempt to save her home). Each of them has lost parents to the water horses and each of them has a fierce love for the island of Thisby. Their relationship is built on mutual respect and interests.
At first, I thought the voices sounded way too similar. I had to count on the chapter heading to let me know who was talking. But eventually I decided this was a brilliant way to show the fact that Sean and Puck are true kindred spirits. Or, quite possibly, Maggie Stiefvater is a Pied Piper so I didn’t care – I was ready to follow her words anywhere.
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK