The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater explores a complicated myth of flesh eating horses and the riders who race them every year on a remote island. The horse come from the sea, quite literally, they rise from the waves canter onto shore and destroy the lives of everyone on the island year after year. The sea constantly calls to these flesh eating horses, and the riders spend the entire month of November trying to capture them and keep them from returning the sea and dissolving into the waves.
Ultimately, The Scorpio Races is an exploration of relationships. That of woman to horse, man to sea, sister to brother, man to woman. Puck Connolly has always grown up on Thisby, where she lost her parents to the capall uisce, and is now about to loose her brother to the Mainland. In a desperate attempt to keep her brother around, Puck enters the Scorpio Races where men try to tame the capall uisce and race them. Most of the men loose their mounts to the sea or their lives to the flesh eating horses, but Puck is determined to win the prized purse with her regular horse Dove and save her broken family. It is a man’s world Puck enters, as it has always and only been the men of Thisby who raced. Her reasons are her own, but the island doesn’t have secrets and it doesn’t forgive those who try to change traditions. However, Puck finds a friend in Sean Kendrick who reasons that it is up to the sea to judge Puck’s worthiness. Sean lost his father to a capall usice who tore into the flesh of his father’s chest and dragged his father out to a bloody sea. Sean is single minded in his devotion to his horse Corr, actually owned by Sean’s employer. Corr is a capall uisce, but Sean’s unique magic quiets the vicious horse and the two develop a special bond. Then Sean sees Puck, with her wild red hair, devotion to her horse and family, and he can’t seem to help being drawn to her, just as the capall usice are drawn back to the sea. Both of them desperately need to win the race, but there can be only one winner.
The quiet magic of Stiefvater’s words reverberate in the soul. The exploration of myth just a cover for her to delve into the heart of people, their spirits, and their connections. The story is told in part by Sean and in part by Puck. Usually this type of story telling gets old, and there has been only one other series where I thought the use of two first-person narratives well done, but here Stiefvater creates two unique voices to tell a truly extraordinary story and it works. It works well. Sean and Puck each have a distinctive voice and singular perspective, which enriches the story as a whole and the tale would not have worked as well without both. Because of this, each character is easy to relate to, and I was drawn to aspects of both Sean and Puck. The voices Stiefvater uses to tell her tale were as much of a siren call to me as the sea is to the capall usice.
I sat at an airport bar drinking a beer and reading this book, texting a friend that I was reading about flesh eating horses. She replied, “Of course you are.” And I couldn’t put the book down. That moment of immersion into the story, forgetting the airport for just a moment, is a precious moment in my mind. Puck Connolly spoke to me, and she spoke loudly enough that I forgot to be afraid of flying – even if for just a moment. Every dip into this narrative drew me in deeper. As I sat on the train on my way back from my trip and consumed the last drop of the story I was both sad and glad. Sad the story was ending, glad I had read such a great book.
Steifvater writes beautifully in The Scorpio Races. Each sentence flows into the next, each person’s story into the other’s. It is one of the best written pieces of fiction I have read in a while. I was also extremely proud of Puck. For her courage, her devotion to her family, and her inability to not change and grow. Honestly, and this is a bit of a *gasp* moment, she has replaced Katniss as my favorite young adult female lead role model. I really think that everyone should read this book, as it has something for everyone. Flesh eating horse, Celtic myths, fictional island, family drama, romance, the call of the sea.
If you don’t believe me, you can read the review that piqued my interest here.