Monday, August 24, 2015

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I have lived a good long time...longer than I will admit to here, and I have been reading voraciously since before kindergarten.   I have read a lot of books.  Many of them have been good, and a precious few have been great.  The Scorpio Races is as good a book as I have read in many years.   It was so good, in fact, that once I finished it, I mourned for a few minutes and then promptly started re-reading it.

The story is intriguing...the Scorpio Races are races set on a small island (fictional, but it feels a lot like an Irish offshore island) between Cappaill Uisce, the water horses of Celtic folklore.  These are no Disney water horses...they eat meat, drink blood and kill.  Each other, and humans.   But the island, Thisby, and the horses are connected in ways modern man has trouble understanding.  They have ancient blood ties past remembering.   Two of the contenders in this years race are Sean Kendricks, and Puck Connelly.

Sean has been working with the Cappaill Uisce since he was a boy.  Described by the islanders as having "one foot on land, and one in the sea" he has won the races for the past four years on a stallion named Corr.  He  loves Corr deeply, and the horses in his charge love him and his magic.

Puck is an orphaned girl who is riding in the races for the first time, as the first woman to compete.  She is also riding her mundane island horse, Dove, rather than one of the Cappaill Uisce...another first.  She is hindered in her efforts by almost everyone on the island.  Everyone but Sean, who is drawn to her for reasons he cannot explain.

The two face many obstacles.  Chief among them is Mutt Malvern, the cruel son of the richest man on the island (and Sean's employer).   Another hurdle they must face is that each has desperate reasons for needing to win the race, but to do that, they must beat the person they are growing to love.  The love story is awkward and terribly sweet.

I can't really put my finger on what I find so compelling about this book.  The story is unique, and the slight tinge of magic over everything on Thisby adds a delightful air of mystery.  Its written by a YA author, which may be the reason the love story is so muted and delicious.  We don't have sex to rely on making the story interesting.  The writing must carry the story.  

And the writing is superb.  The suspense simply never lets up.  One is completely drawn in by the two immensely likable main characters, and many of the lesser characters deserve their own book:  Finn and George Holly are two I would love to read more about.  The rituals and traditions surrounding the races are unsettling, yet have the feel of ancient rhythms and rites.  Stiefvater has an unswervingly deft hand in her timing and the pace of the story feels just right.  The conclusion is a surprise, albeit one that satisfactorily resolves the dilemma of the two protagonists.

I was rather haunted by the story.  I found myself thinking a lot about the story and the characters during the first read, and even the second.  Sean,  in particular caught my imagination.  He is mysterious and magical and immensely attractive.   Again, Ms Stiefvater reveals just enough of his background to help explain him, but we never fully understand him.

I will definitely read more by the author.  I don't usually read YA novels, but this one is so exceptional that I too will make an exception.

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