Thursday, July 20, 2017

Teen/YA Review: The Scorpio Races

I am a big fan of Maggie Stiefvater’s YA novels, though I tried them reluctantly because I don’t normally read much fantasy. However, I ended up loving Shiver and The Raven Cycle and read all of the books in both series. With my Big Book Summer Challenge as extra incentive, I finally read her earlier novel that I missed, The Scorpio Races, last month. I didn’t love it quite as well as her other novels, but I did end up enjoying this unique action-packed fantasy.

The novel takes place on a fictional island called Thisby, which seems to be maybe off the coast of Ireland and is rural, with a small town called Skarmouth. The island would be mostly forgettable except that it harbors an animal found nowhere else: capaill uisce or water horses. These unique creatures are horses that live in the ocean most of the year. The other thing that sets them apart from regular horses is their violence and blood lust, which peaks on November 1, a time of year when they are drawn onto the island of Thisby and eager for the blood of other horses or humans.

Other than this one fantastical element, life on Thisby is pretty normal stuff most of the year, though the water horses do play a role in some people’s lives. There are those on the island who train them and those who ride them in the annual Scorpio Races on the beach on November 1 (and those who bet on the race). The entire island is focused on preparing for the month of October when mainlanders come to Thisby for the excitement of the upcoming race.

Sean Kendrick is one of those who trains water horses. His own father was killed (gruesomely) in the Scorpio Races nine years ago, when Sean was just 10 years old. Despite that, Sean loves the ocean and loves the capaill uisce, especially Corr, a huge, red water horse stallion that he loves to ride and wishes he owned. He has won the Scorpio Races for the past two years on Corr, but for now, he is stuck working for a wealthy man who owns a huge stable where he helps to train both regular horses and water horses.

Puck Connelly is a spirited teen girl who lives with her two brothers, Finn and Gabe, in their ramshackle family home. The three of them were orphaned when both of their parents were killed by a capall uisce that attacked their fishing boat. Gabe, the oldest, works hard, and they sell handmade teapots to tourists, but they are barely scraping by. When their situation becomes even more precarious, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races, to try to win the prize money to both save their home and keep Gabe on the island. The problem? Besides the high chance of injury or death, Puck is also the first girl to ever run the races, and many traditionalists on Thisby are not happy about her participation.

I have to admit that this novel didn’t grab me immediately; it was more of a slow build for me. I was a bit put off by the violence at first. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t normally read a lot of fantasy, so I wasn’t sure about this strange world on Thisby. But, like her other novels, Stiefvater has set a fantasy element – the water horses, in this case – in the midst of a normal-feeling world, which I tend to like better than wholly made-up fantasy worlds. By about the halfway point, I was fully engaged in the story, rooting for both Puck and Sean (though they obviously can’t both win), and eagerly reading to find out what would happen next.

 I connected with the characters right from the start: both Sean and Puck are multi-faceted and likeable, and the supporting characters feel real, too. As in Stiefvater’s other novels, there is plenty of adventure, action, suspense, and even a bit of romance. If you can get past the violence, The Scorpio Races is a fast-paced and exciting read for teens and young adults (and grown-ups, too!).

401 pages, Scholastic

The Scorpio Races
by Maggie StiefvaterTrade Paperback

 Or Purchase from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:

Or Purchase The Scorpio Races from Book Depository.


  1. I loved this book! I don't know what it is, but when I read it - it was just magical.

    1. I love when a book grabs me like that! I felt that way about Shiver.

  2. I'll confess I've never read a Stiefvater novel and I'm not sure why.

    1. Wow! I think you would like them. She's a really good writer. I wasn't interested in the Shiver series at first - didn't sound like my kind of novel - but I finally gave Shiver a try based on so many rave reviews, and I ended up racing through the entire series (which is a rarity for me - I don't usually read series). The Shiver series is my favorite, and The Raven Cycle was really great, too - my son and husband liked it, too!

  3. This has long been one of my favorite YA novels in publication. In fact, I want to reread it. Perhaps, I'll look for it on audiobooks.

    1. Oh, I bet it is great on audio, Anne!