It’s the surf in your face, the deadly magic of November on your skin, the Scorpio drums in the place of your heartbeat.
Maggie Steifvater is known for the Raven Cycle and the Shiver trilogy, and The Scorpio Races is also in the same genre: an amalgamation of fantasy and young adult fiction. Though not as renowned, The Scorpio Races savagely stands out with its passionate plot, captivating characters, and intricate language.
The tiny isle of Thisby sits small on the violent Scorpio Sea; entrenched in pagan traditions, this island, at the waning of each year, plays host to capaill uisce (CAP-ul ISH-kuh), water horses of Celtic legend, cannibalistic and brutal. On the first of every November, a race upon the beach astride these dangerous beasts takes place. The water horses’ thirst for flesh rivals their thirst for the sea, and many riders have gone to bloody deaths in the watery depths.
Puck, whose parents were lost to the water horses, is racing for the very first time, her eyes firmly on the rather exorbitant prize. She needs to make ends meet, force her older brother to stay with the family, protect her younger brother, and possess enough money to buy the house they all currently inhabit. Complex in ways that are revealed slowly, delicately, she is a strong, compelling character.
Nineteen-year-old Sean, also an orphan, is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races. Having ridden Corr, pride of the Malvern stables, to victory four times in a row, he is taciturn, intelligent, and the only known water horse-whisperer. He understands the capaill uisce: their ferocity, and theirfervent longing for the sea, and channels their independance. A quintessentially appealing character, his sole reason to race this year is being able to call Corr his own if he wins.
At this point, the book probably sounds like some sort of elaborate romance novel a la Twilight. And in truth, it is. It is a love story of epic proportions – between Sean and Corr, and Puck and Thisby. The romance between Sean and Puck spans all of a paragraph in total. Rather, the relationship between boy and horse – a dangerous, dangerous horse – is intense, fascinating, and enviable. Puck’s involved bond with Thisby is described in glorious detail through her own descriptions of the island. Narrated in alternating first person points of view, Puck and Sean spin the tale in different voices that nonetheless coalesce into a magnificent telling.
When Sean stands there, his face turned out to the sea, he is no more civilized than any of the capaill uisce, and it unsettles me.
The book flaunts much dichotomy: Sean’s reticence and Puck’s vitriol, Sean’s feral mount and Puck’s docile mare, popular Christianity being interrupted by a month of pagan fierceness, which dovetails perfectly with the elaborate, mouth-watering descriptions. Characters are painted boldly, with striking personalities, and each scene is constructed and expounded upon with a plethora of detail.
There is a fair amount of gore and violence – unsurprising, since the cast includes untamed beasts – a butcher’s shop, and a popular pub, which makes the age restrictions on the book a T, possibly fifteen and older. It is prudent to mention here that majority of the book deals with the month leading up to the race. The race itself, and its aftermath, is relayed skillfully, yet the anticipation, both Puck’s and Sean’s, is the main focus of the novel. However, all races have only one victor, and the stakes for the protagonists are steep. Nevertheless, the book draws to a satisfactory conclusion after an exhilarating, painful journey. Not for the fainthearted, nor for light-reading, The Scorpio Races is a book that I will forever treasure.
Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, says the sea, but I don’t believe her.