I just finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the story of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two teens on a small Celtic island that is visited by man-eating horses every year.
Yeah, I said it: man-eating horses.
If you’ve heard of kelpies or water horses, you’ve heard of the capaill uisce. Every November, the small island of Thisby holds a race in honor of the water horses.
Yeah, a race course full of man-eating horses.
While this may not seem like the smartest idea, it’s all about tradition and connection with Thisby’s roots. There is a definite conflict between those who want to follow the old ways and those that want to get off of this crazy island.
Surprisingly enough, the protagonists want to preserve the old ways, which is cool. Normally YA heroes are rebellious, and there is a tinge of that. Puck is the first girl to race and there are a few scenes that deal with inequalities between men and women. Puck also has to figure out how to be a strong woman without becoming too much like the crass men of Thisby. Yet Puck doesn’t want her brother to move to the mainland and leave behind their history. Sean is the most capable jockey because he knows the traditions behind raising capaill uisce.
The actual race is only a small portion of the story, which I was a little disappointed in. It’s one big race, so I guess there are no quarterfinals, semifinals, and all that to progress through. The race is quick and that’s how it’s described in the book.
The pacing of the book is a little bit slower because you follow Puck and Sean around on a small island. They keep running into the same characters during the build-up and training before the race, but those characters are described very well. You can tell what motivates each of the island inhabitants.
While the pacing is a little slower, that does not mean that there aren’t enough suspenseful moments to break up the routine. One of my favorite scenes is Puck being caught outside at night by a capaill uisce and her trying to escape.
There is a romance that develops between Puck and Sean that is interesting because the first-person narrative switches back and forth. I’m glad that both characters are focused on more than just each other, an example other YA heroes could learn from, so getting inside their brains was not all obsessive inner monologues.
The rich mythology that Stiefvater has built up is what makes the story, even if she did pick and choose with the myths. Thisby seems so real. I also missed which time period the book takes place in, but small details like the types of radio programs people are listening to or the types of outfits helps place the setting.
It’s worth a read. I’ll booktalk it on Monday and see if junior highers are interested in horses that will eat your face off.