Happily, The Scorpio Races, ended up being just as I predicted. A fun and quick read. Actually, if I didn’t have children it would have been one of those sit and finished-it-in-one-afternoon kind of reads. However, those days in my life are past (sigh), and instead I finished it in two days. That, in and of itself, is pretty impressive and should tell you something about the book. This was one of those books you just don’t want to put down. I love those…
What first drew me to this book was that it was based on the water horse legend. Yea, I had never heard of a water horse either. I’ve always considered myself a lover of all things myth and legend. And being a red-blooded American girl growing up in Kansas, I’ve loved horses all my life and spent a fair amount of time on them as a child. How was it that I missed the water horse myth?
Anyway, Maggie Stiefvater claims she didn’t exactly follow any version of the legend to the letter, and this didn’t bother me a bit. I love how this book came off as real. This is a book about horses that emerge from the sea on only one island in the world. Carnivorous horses. They are mean, wild, and beautiful. Once a year this island hosts a horse race with these horses. People come from all over the world to watch and participate. You must catch one of these horses (capaill uisce) and tame it if you have even a hope of surviving the race. Many people die doing this.
Clearly, the premise of this is fantasy. However, Stiefvater is able to pull it off in such a way that you actually want to go and Google the Scorpio Races to see which water horse won this past year. The magic of the legend is there, but it is so subtle. Stiefvatar dangles your toes in the pool of magic and myth, but never quite throws you in. She walks a fine line, and you can almost imagine that this is based on a real island and it’s horses.
This book is written from the point of view of two people. Puck is an orphan with two brothers. Her oldest brother is planning on leaving the island, and they are about to lose their house. In a desperate attempt to keep her brother on the island, and to pay off the house, she enters the Scorpio Races with her completely normal (non-carnivorous) island pony. She is the first woman EVER to attempt entering. And she is the first person to attempt riding an animal other than a water horse in the races as well.
Sean has worked in the stables since his father died in the Scorpio Races. No one knows water horses like he does. One specifically, the one that killed his father, is precious to him. However, this horse belongs to his employer. Malvern. Mal means bad. Comes from the latin malus. It fits him. He basically owns the whole island, including Sean. He is the one foreclosing on Pucks home. We don’t like him. He is a wonderful choice for bad guy, but his son is worse.
I love the hint of magic and legend woven into this book. This is a great introductory fantasy novel for students who perhaps haven’t tried the genre because of preconceived perceptions about the fantasy genre. Adults can love this book as well. There are some heavier themes hinted at within that leave room for some more growth and depth in possible sequels. People who are familiar with small town communities will especially relate to the story and some of the themes of this book. It seems that young people fleeing dying communities is a common occurence in our modern world, and this is very much a part of the foundation in this book.