If you are planning to read The Scorpio Races be warned: don’t start if you’ve got anything else planned for the rest of your day because you won’t be able to stop reading until the last page. Maggie Stiefvater’s latest release is riveting. And masterfully crafted to boot.
On the tiny island of Thisby, it is October, the month when the blood-loving water horses – capaill uisce – climb out of the sea, ‘hungry and sea-mad’; when frenzied preparations begin for the first of November, the day of the Scorpio Races. This is no ordinary horse race for the islanders and riders, and if past races are anything to go by, for some riders and their capaill mounts the price of entering will be their lives. But it’s Puck (Kate) Connolly – the first female to ride in the races – and Sean Kendrick who have the most at stake; both have their reasons for racing, and for each one, the need to win outweighs the inherent risks.
Steifvater displays an unflinching ability to set characters solidly on the page; she knows first-hand the minds and hearts of a close-knit community, of the ache to belong, the ache to leave, and of the bitter enmity caused by jealousy. Her characterisation is a close match for her superlative plotting and she is a dab hand at crafting an artful sentence. Her prose is vivid and fresh, witty and rich, with clever foreshadowing and withholding of detail. Her descriptions of place invoke all the senses and it is easy to see Steifvater has done her research when it comes to the portrayal of cliffs, the ocean and the behaviour of horses. Her personification of the island makes it a character in the story, a mysterious living entity that impacts the lives of its inhabitants, and to which each reacts in their own way.
This is a story long in the making for Steifvater, and as she outlines on her blog, one she believes is her best work to date, written in response to advice she was given as a teenager to ‘write the book you've always wanted to read, but can't find on the shelf’. It is a compelling read, with a relentless build up of tension throughout the book. It is about courage, kin, treachery, trust, and love; about wanting something so badly two marginalised young people are willing to put their lives on the line. With a storyline populated with horses, a race and romance, The Scorpio Races is a book older teenage girls will relish. Highly recommended.
Scholastic Books 2011