Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I'm going to begin with a disclaimer: I'm a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater. I love her books, I love her blog and I love the persona she presents to the world of a race car-driving, approachable and not particularly mysterious best-selling author. I love that she posts images of her manuscripts dripping with her critique partners' notes. I love that she talks about writing as a craft and hard work, not the product of divine inspiration. I love reading her books because they are fun and quirky and very well-written, because with every new one they get better, and because her fantastical is so thoroughly embedded in the mundane that suspending disbelief is not at all a problem for me. You get the picture, huge fan. So it's not that much of a surprise then that I loved The Scorpio Races. I actually listened to the audiobook, which I almost never do, because obligations are pulling at me from all directions but I really wanted to read this book right now. So I did.
My favorite thing about this novel were the relationships between humans and animals, the fondness that animal-lovers will recognize, where the human will learn to read their four-legged friend, know when to push them and when to soothe them, and when to remember that they are not human and taking a step back is the wise course of action. This partnership and mutual affection came through so clearly in the book that I could almost feel it as I listened to the story.
Another favorite were Puck's and Sean's internal conflicts: for her it was which horse to ride in the race, for him it was a matter of who would win. Puck's dilemma was apparent very soon, while Sean's took time to build, but when they clashed it was the moment when The Conflict became obvious and you just knew that there was no turning back.
I have a soft spot for stories where not everything is spelled out, and here Stiefvater obliged with a few characters whose pasts and futures were more than a little murky when the book ended. The not knowing upped the ante in the tension department and the fact that the reader was left guessing took the novel to a different level in YA. After all, there is always something in life that remains unresolved and undiscovered.
What left me vaguely displeased was the character of Mutt Malvern. I suppose I've been analyzing literature too much lately to be completely satisfied with a purely evil villain, but here it works, especially when combined with the way the book ends. I'm not going to give too much away but the last sentence gave me chills and made me want to get the printed copy and immediately read it (audio is great and all but it's a completely different experience from reading the words on the page).
Once the book was finished I thought back on it and decided that it has a very fairy-tale kind of feel to it, both when it comes to the characters and the story itself. Listening to it was similar to listening to a legend and the fact that it's not only set on an island in Ireland but also crafted in such a way that the location becomes almost a character itself helps support that mythic quality. It all works and I'm looking forward to not only revisiting The Scorpio Races but also reading Maggie Stiefvater's next series, The Raven Boys.

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