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Monday, November 28, 2011

November Book Club: The Scorpio Races Review

Well, November’s winding down, which means today we’re talking about our monthly book club pick, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Which is kind of fitting (though I certainly didn’t think of the connection when you guys voted for it) since the Scorpio Races in the book take place in November. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I kind of liked that.

First, a summary for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet:
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. Others die.
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 chance. So she enters the competition—the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
This guy's gorgeous isn't he? Or she.

Growing up, I didn’t own a horse. I went horseback riding a handful of times, at least three of which included a petting zoo, a pony, and a small plot of land encircled by a fence. While I like horses I’ve never been into horses. (Here’s a shocker: I never even asked my dad for a pony when I was growing up. I’m pretty sure I begged for an in-ground pool instead. Note to Dad: I’m still waiting…)

So when I heard about The Scorpio Races for the first time, my mind went something like this:
ME: A book about horses? Pass.
Me: But look! Dangerous races that kill a lot of people!

ME: Yes, but horses.

Me: And evil horses that can chomp people in half!
ME: I can hear it now, all that horse-speak.
Me: You’re overreacting. This is Maggie Stiefvater here. Would she lead you astray?
ME: …
Me: There will be killing and a little bit of romance!
ME: Fine…
I’ll be honest: This book talks a lot about horses. And not just about the legend of the water horse (or capaill uisce, if you want to really tongue tie yourself), mind you. One of the narrators, Sean Kendrick, has grown up around horses his whole life. He’s a horse trainer by trade. In his point of view, it’s all about the horses. As for Puck, who plans to race with the rest of the men come November, life revolves around readying herself. Which of course revolves around horses.

Get my point? But listen, in Stiefvater’s capable hands, the story comes together in a way that’s exciting. And all of the horse talk? It’s not overkill. That’s one of the great things about this book. It took someone like me, who had no desire to read about horses, and made me care about the horses, the training, everything involved with the horse-centric lifestyle of Thisby. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it’s unlike any other book out there.

What I also loved was how well the dual first-person narration worked. Sometimes I find that reading a book from two perspectives leaves one character flatter than the other. But I cared as much about Sean as I did Puck—and each were so well-rounded I’d believe Stiefvater if she said the story was true and Sean and Puck still lived on the island.

That’s also partly because the other characters, from Puck’s two brothers to an American stable owner who befriends Sean, are incredibly well developed. As is the setting. The fictional island of Thisby, which felt Irish to me, sprang to life. I could smell the salty sea air and the hay and manure in the stables. I saw the towering cliffs and the ocean’s waves beating against them. I tasted the sweet cakes sold in town. Here’s where I’d also believe Stiefvater if she told me Thisby actually existed. (Which is why I should never run into Maggie Stiefvater, for fear of being totally duped.)

And then there are the horses. The story is perfectly paced so we can fully grasp the beauty and horror that are the water horses. Through both Sean and Puck we experience fear, awe, and love for the deadly beasts, and never once did I think these emotions were released to us too quickly or too slowly.

I should also add that though Sean is closed-off to others and acts much older than his age, Puck is a trip. Seriously, the girl says the greatest stuff when she’s not trying to be funny at all. She has this innocence and stubbornness to her that works so well to complement Sean’s stoic nature. See:

In response to someone asking her why she joined the races, Puck tells us: 
“It’s for personal reasons,” I say stiffly, which is what my mother had always told me to say about things that had to do with fighting with your brothers, getting any sort of illness that had intestinal ramifications, starting your period, and money. 
 And when she’s facing the other men who will compete in the Scorpio Races:
I hear laughter and someone asks if I need help, not in a nice way. I snarl, “What I need is for your mother to have thought a little harder nine months before your birthday.”
It was the end of the book—the Scorpio Races and the events that directly follow—that made me not just like the book but love it. Even though both Sean and Puck are vying for the same purse, even though each has a very good reason for needing to win the race, and even though we’ve been in each of their heads, the ending doesn’t disappoint. In fact, the final paragraph tugged at my heart and made me want to curl up with this book all over again.

I think that’s what 
Stiefvater is great at: Setting a mood, letting us as readers wallow in it, and holding that feeling until the end.

What did you think? Leave a comment below or link to your blog post below.

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