by Maggie Stiefvater
'A spellbinding novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.
Some race to win. Others race to survive.
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.
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 choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.'
*** MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Oh my gosh, what a journey this book was! I'd been in a reading slump and Julie had suggested this one. She even sent me her copy to read. Do you want to see something really cool about this copy?
It's signed by the author! I think that is so freakin' cool!
Anyway, Julie was kind enough to share her book with me so I felt obligated to get going on it so I could get it back to her. It was a struggle to get going. Not only was there the reading slump I was battling, but I was finding this book very brutal and disturbing to me in the beginning. It wasn't nonstop over the top violence or anything like that. It was coming across to me as brutality that didn't need to be. Plus, it was about horses, which I love.
Going into this book clueless, it was about some little island seemingly around the UK somewhere. In the fall, apparently these demon monster water horses come out of the ocean and kill people and animals and eat meat and are all kinds of scary. For some reason, people would try to catch these monster horses and subdue them in cruel ways while trying to control them enough to win the big race that happens in November. The whole thing bothered me. I'm not sure why, but it really got under my skin and into my head and I decided I had no interest in reading such a weird, nasty story. I was actually packing the book into a shipping envelope and telling Casey about how unfortunate it was, when he Googled 'capaill uisce' and found it really is a thing. They really are mythical water horses, popping up in many cultures, including Norse mythology. I was like "Whaaaaaaat?" and suddenly I was more interested. I decided to give the book another chance.
I'm so glad I did!
There were still things that bothered me, and still things that don't quite make sense to me, but as the story started to shift more to the relationships these characters have, the brutality tapered off. It did come back again towards the end, I was so into the story by then that I just soldiered on.
The island is a poor place. There aren't many jobs. The people who live there tend to live simple lives. A lot of people just can't handle it and leave for the mainland. This has torn some families apart. The 'capaill uisce' (the water horses) have torn families apart too, by killing parents and leaving orphans, etc.. So the Scorpio Races each November are a big deal on the island. If you can survive and win the biggest Scorpio Race, you can win a lot of money. It can be your ticket to the mainland, or help your family get through another rough year, or whatever. Of course, racing these meat eating monster horses who want nothing more than a meal of fresh meat and to get back into the sea, is a huge risk. Many will not survive.
Puck's parents are dead, and her older brother has decided he's had enough of this crappy island life. He's about to abandon her and their brother to go to the mainland. Puck then finds out they're going to lose their parents house. She decides she needs to ride in the Scorpio Races to try and win that money, not only to save their home but to try and keep her older brother from leaving. She is terrified of the water horses, and feels it would be disrespectful to try and ride one in the race since it was one of these horses that killed her parents in the first place. She decides she'll have to ride her own regular horse, her beloved 'island pony,' her very best friend in the world.
Sean has been orphaned by a mother who took off for the mainland long ago, and a father who taught him about the 'capaill uisce' and was killed by them. Sean was taken in by the island's richest family, the Malverns, who own a huge horse stable that breeds, trains, and sells Thoroughbreds. The Malverns also have their share of the water horses and enter the races every year. Sean has a special way with these horses and is often the only one who can work with them. He's won the biggest of the Scorpio Races four of the past six years, on his favorite horse, a big red 'capaill uisce' stallion. It seems likely he'll win again this year too. But this year he has a bigger reason for winning. He's tired of serving the mean and dirty Malverns. And he wants to own this stallion that he loves so dearly. He makes a deal with Mr. Malvern, that if he wins the race he can buy his freedom and his horse.
Neither Puck or Sean are looking for a relationship, or even friendship, as they go about their business prepping for this race. But circumstances keep bringing them together, and a bond grows between them. When they later learn each others secrets, why they need to ride in this most dangerous race, it becomes clear . . . they can't both win.
I love the way the relationship between these two characters grows slowly. There is no mushy love at first sight, no cheesy dialogue or dreamily staring into each others eyes. There is no holding hands and giggling and going on dates. There is working together to survive. There is looking out for each other. There is quietness and slow growing comfortableness. It's very powerful that way.
Puck is feisty, and fumbling in her attempts to be ladylike in the few occasions she needs to be. She's struggling to be good when she has no role models around, and only the memories of her parents ways to guide her. She feels horrible for having to put her horse into such a situation, but does everything she can to both keep her safe and get her ready.
Sean is quiet and dangerous. He goes about his business and prefers the company of the horses to that of most people. He sort of falls into that special category I have for Quiet But Dangerous Makes Them So Much More Attractive. You know, the one I've said Edward Cullen and Professor Snape are in? They quietly go about their business but all along, they have this deadly power that will only be used when pushed to their limit. Sean doesn't have special supernatural powers, but he has a knack for understanding and handling the water horses, and he will fight back if people try to push him or his horses too far. At one point he loses 'his' horse and must stand by and watch as Malvern's horrible son pretty much abuses him. It just makes it more important to Sean that he win this race and get himself and his horse away from there.
Of course, as mentioned, Puck and Sean can't both win. By the time the race rolls around, at the end of the book, the bonds that these characters have with each and their horses are so strong, and so heartbreaking. I was playing out every scenario in my head, trying to imagine how it would end. Since the book is dark and bleak and brutal, I knew where would not be some fairy tale miracle. I never did guess it would end the way it did though. I was a crying mess by that point.
And then there are the after-effects of the race, the loose ends that need to be tied up. I was surprised by some, and torn up by others. Although I did see where the ending was going, when it actually happened, I was a complete sobbing fool.
Oh. My. Gosh.
I'm glad I decided to give the book another chance, and I will definitely be buying a copy of this for myself now. I can see myself reading this again.
Have you read The Scorpio Races?
What did you think of it?