It’s mid-October, and the capaill uisce – the flesh-eating water horses – are climbing out of the sea, which can only mean one thing: that November 1 is approaching, the dreaded day of the Scorpio Races. For Sean Kendrick, who is both horse whisperer and three-time winner of the races, it means he can’t help seeing the image of his dead father on the beach, lost many years ago. Likewise Kate “Puck” Connolly is thinking of the same time last year, when her parents went out on a boat and didn’t return. She’s fiercely protective of her younger brother Finn, the house they share with older brother Gabe, and her horse Dove. That’s why when Gabe tells them he’s leaving the island she can only respond by boldly declaring that she will be joining the Scorpio Races, the first girl to do so. Against much opposition Puck will not go back on her rash decision and as training begins Sean will be one of her few supporters. Their shared knack and love for horses will bring them together for an outcome that they never could have imagined.
This book, which I’ve been anxiously awaiting since I heard of its existence, surprised me in the best way possible. Even before the book very thoughtfully landed in my hands (Thanks Angie!), the lukewarm reviews never dampened my hopes or made me hesitate because my record with Maggie Stiefvater’s novels speaks for itself. From the Faerie Queen’s Deception series to Shiver, I’ve read them all and there’s never been a bad read among them. I didn’t know what to expect from the premise (man-eating sea horses?) so I tried not to expect anything. In the end though, how could The Scorpio Races not be beyond expectation? Much more than its odd and gruesome-sounding premise, it’s a novel about place, instincts, horses, and the sea, and I loved every minute of it.
There are so many remarkable aspects of this novel but I’ll start with what first drew me in: the writing. It’s sparse and lovely and has a slightly haunting quality about it that is well-suited to the small, legendary island of Thisby. There were several passages which struck and stunned me in turn. Second of all it was the characters which stood out, first Puck with her spirited passion for everything she loves and then Sean, who is even-tempered, level-headed and like islander Thomas Gratton mentioned, an old nineteen. Whether you are familiar with horses or not, Puck and Sean are to be revered out of their very reverence to the animals. Puck, ever caring and Sean, always gentle, you can’t help but feel a love, respect, and majesty for both the capaill uisce and regular horses alike. I loved how Dove and Corr are inseparable parts of Puck and Sean respectively, becoming characters themselves. This brings me to the romance, which is of the slow and gradual variety and causes me to sigh contentedly just thinking about it. It reminded me of the way a certain relationship in The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner develops. Puck and Sean’s attachment to each other grows steadily and in a quiet manner. So much is riding on the few words they speak to one another that each exchange between them is powerful. A handful of lines made my heart stop, so perfect are they. While I realize the meandering pace and the subtlety of the romance may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I savored the introspective, atmospheric prose from the beginning and the romance slayed me, it was that good. I couldn’t read the last third of the book fast enough, and when I finished the heart-stopping last page I wondered when I’d have another experience like it. The Scorpio Races is undoubtedly in the running for my favorite book of the year and I can’t recommend it more highly. I hope hope hope that readers who weren’t Maggie Stiefvater fans before will take a chance on it.