Some race to win. Others race to survive.
-Amazon Book Description
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Alright so Stiefvater. Her last series was death. The first book I had lukewarm feelings for. The second was worse. I never bothered to finish the series.
It follows that I would have been more than a little skeptical of this new book then. I’m not sure what it was that pushed me to try it because by all means I should have walked away. Anyways, here’s what I found.
The Scorpio Races is about two characters, a girl and a boy. The chapters are told in first person, switching between Puck (the girl) and Sean (the boy). Puck is a plucky orphan who lives with her older and younger brother in a house on a small island called Thisby.
Thisby’s economic backbone seems to come from these races they host called the Scorpio Races. The races are extremely dangerous because the creatures they ride are not normal horses, but volatile beasts that come from the Scorpio Sea. They’re monstrous and wild and see humans as a nice snack. Once caught, they also want to return to the ocean more than anything, and if you can’t control them while you’re riding, you will drown.
Sean is the current champion and he’s a bit of a horse whisperer. He understands them and would rather be with horses than humans. Sean’s got a special water horse named Corr. Corr isn’t just the fastest water horse ever, but he’s basically the reason for Sean’s existence. Sean is also an orphan, like Puck.
When Puck’s brother randomly announces that he’s moving to the mainland, she decides to enter the races in a desperate attempt to make him stay. But no girl has ever raced before. And Puck’s not even going to race on a water horse besides.
The whole story basically revolves around these races and it’s all setup to the day of. The concept kind of reminded me of the movie Hidalgo (which was good) but less action. I mean, you would not believe the amount of talking these characters can do. This book was long.
As far as characters go, Puck and Sean might as well have been one person. Both points of view were first person, and if it hadn’t said at the beginning of the chapter who was narrating, then I would’ve never known. I get that they have to be a little similar— they both like horses, they both have serious issues at stake in the races, etc, etc—but their voices were the same.
Which was weird. Because Puck is brave and obviously more rash and impulsive, while Sean is a man of few words and slow actions. Yet when I was reading their sides of the story, both characters kept a slow narration of everything that happened. They spoke the same way. Thought the same way. I mean, at that point, why even bother splitting the narration?
The writing for both parts was extremely descriptive and Stiefvater kept doing this really irritating thing where— and I think this was here trying to make Puck unique—something would be happening with Puck and all of a sudden, she’d break off on a random tangent and take ages to get back to the point. Like, Puck was chatting with people and then she starts going on to me about how she envies their accent and blah blah blah. And all I could think of was what’s the point in this? And also, on such a small island, wouldn’t she have the same accent?
Stiefvater also another irritating habit. Which was general description of stuff. She was incredibly vague where it mattered, and overly detailed when it didn’t. For instance, the time period and location of this story is unclear to me. I suspect Thisby is a sort of like Ireland and I thought the story was taking place in a early 1900 setting, or 1950s. But like I said, it’s really not clear. It could’ve been present day. I mean, maybe she’s creating a whole new world. Maybe it supposed to be set in this one. It just wasn’t clear. And I would’ve liked it to be.
But when it came to describing her every action and how the house looked at that exact moment— then I could’ve done without it.
Something that was really upsetting for me was the lack of side characters. I mean, they were there, but they were clichéd, or boring, or too vague for me to really start caring about. The only people whose names I even remember from this are Puck and Sean. I know it’s their story, but the supporting cast could’ve been stronger.
Yet at the same time, I do believe Stiefvater did a good job with using the side characters to work with the main characters motives. For instance, the town bully, while being everything you’d expect, did things that changed the story in ways I didn’t understand. So in characterization, she was bland, but their actions were strong.
While we’re talking about actions I’d like to mention the fact that Puck’s brother gave no legitimate reason for deserting his family. The way he brought it up, it wasn’t like leaving because we need money and I’m going to find work. It was leaving because I hate this island and I don’t love young enough to stay. It made the older brother seem totally rotten and while his departure was a strong motive to have Puck enter the race, in and of itself it was flimsy.
The pacing of this story was slow, but I guess it made sense since it was all build of for the big day. This was also a bit of a good thing because it gave Puck and Sean time to get to know each other and develop their romance. I liked that their romance was second place to their own personal dramas and the overall plot. It was woven in nicely. But it was also something you expected from page one. Rather than being refreshing, it was more like, okay I can check this off my list of things I knew would happen.
The ending was surprisingly and solid. I was pleased when I finished this book and I certainly didn’t feel like I had wasted my time which is a very, very good thing.
However, I must say that the absolute best part of this story were the water horses. They were amazing. I loved how perfectly they were imagined and then put in the story. There are so many stupid cheesy ways it could’ve been done (read: paranormal romance) but having them as wild, untamable beasts that are raced during the time when they return to the sea most made the whole concept of this story adventurous, despite the fact that there wasn’t tons of action. The creatures were so well conceived. I was scared of them, and in awe of them, and entranced because I’d never heard of water horses before. It was fantastic. And the way all the characters reacted to them— that was a great element to the story, and I think it brought out more of Sean and Puck than their inner-mind theatres ever did.
In all, this book was fun. Boys and girls would enjoy it— I did. Because if Stiefvater isn’t describing things, she’s not a bad writer. This book was far better than her other series. Most of that I think comes from the power of being something unique. Not a dystopia, not a paranormal romance. Something different, and in a good way.
And I’m just going to go out and say it– I think this book would actually make a really good movie. And I don’t say that often. But there you go.
0. Couldn’t get past chapter one for fear of wanting to kill myself. Book induced suicide…
1: Yuck. Ew. Below Average. Probably didn’t even read the middle and skipped to the end.
2. Ok. Would’ve been better if I’d written the ending and everything else.
3. Not bad at all. Very enjoyable. Quite nice. Recommendable.
4. My kind of book. Near ideal, but something was a little off (annoying names, bad ending, that sort of thing).
5. WOW. Makes me wonder why people watch T.V when this is out there. Really liked it. Don’t expect to see this often.
6 and above. What I want my book to be.