Readers, today’s review is the February installment of the Eclectic Reader Challenge.* This month I read The Scorpio Races, a fantasy novel by Maggie Stiefvater. This was a book I’ve been waiting to buy since October, and I’ve been even more anxious to finish it since I discovered it had been honored with a Printz award.
A short synopsis: the waters around the island of Thisby are home to carnivorous, amphibious and often homicidal water horses that come ashore every October. Every year, the bravest of the islanders manage to capture some of the water horses and ride them in the annual Scorpio Races, which are a very dangerous and popular affair. There are two main characters in this novel: Puck Connolly, who is the first girl ever to ride in the Scorpio Races (for various personal reasons); and Sean Kendrick, who has won the Races four times and is basically the water-horse-whisperer of Thisby. This is about their interactions together and their individual struggles as they prepare for the deadly Races.
Maggie Stiefvater is the author of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, so I had high expectations for this latest stand-alone novel. And it’s true that I really enjoyed it. I liked the excitement of the horse racing (I used to be quite the horse enthusiast), and I really liked the character of Sean. This book is extremely character-driven, and he (along with his cohort) is perfect for the job. He’s the steady-and-silent type, and that was done beautifully in this novel, but his real charm comes through when you see his more vulnerable side. I also was intrigued by his relationship with Corr, his water horse. He can’t trust the beast, but he loves Corr all the same.
Puck, though, is a different matter. Throughout the novel I found her to be almost unbearably stubborn, and I never really understood her pretense for riding in the first place. What happens is Puck’s older brother, Gabe (they’re orphans, by the way), is planning to leave Thisby for the mainland. As soon as she hears the news, she announces that she’ll be in the Races, concluding that if she wins Gabe will magically decide to stay. This seemed just ridiculous to me, which is probably the reason I was wary of her for the rest of the book.
Needless to say, I much preferred the scenes with Sean in them.
The secondary characters were all right, though. The good guys were interesting and funny and clever, notably the American horse dealer George Holly and Puck’s little brother, Finn. The bad guys, on the other hand, were irredeemably so. I found myself despising the cool and collected I-own-this-island-and-I-like-playing-games-with-the-people-on-it Benjamin Malvern and his malicious I’m-not-good-with-horses-so-it’s-someone-else’s-fault son, Mutt. All told, well played by Mrs. Stiefvater. She managed to keep things fresh with the antagonists, which can be a hard thing to do.
Now, on with the book overall, not just the characters. As for where the plot is concerned, I had no qualms with it. It had enough going on to keep me interested. It’s where everything comes together that I thought this book fell a little flat. Maybe it’s because with this author I’m comparing it too much to her incredible werewolf trilogy, but while I liked this book, I wasn’t jump-up-and-down enthusiastic about it. I can’t really put my finger on it, because it was good, sure, but not good enough to make me love it like I’ve loved her other books.
Perhaps this is just because I’m coming fresh off a reread of TFiOS, which was just as AMAZING the second time around.
Rating: 3/5 stars, but do keep in mind I’m a harsh critic generally. You should see some of the papers I peer-edit in school.
Well, I suppose that about does it for this episode. I’m already started on 1984. I might get that one done before March, actually, which means I’ll be breaking my vow with the one-book-a-month thing, but, really, none of you care, do you? It’s 1984!
*For more information, please see the tab above called “The Challenge”.