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.
As always, Maggie Stiefvater gives us painstakingly beautiful prose. My only complaint is similar to what I said for Shiver: sometimes, I forgot whose head I was in. Her writing is beautiful, but it isn’t always definitive of who is speaking.
The writing was definitely the highlight of this book. I’m not a big horse person and I probably wouldn’t have bought this book if Maggie Stiefvater hadn’t written it.
*Contains minor spoilers*
It built really slowly, like climbing up a hill that is only slightly inclined. It’s worth it for the climax, though. Don’t go in expecting tension and action like The Hunger Games. Both have a similar idea in that they have protagonists that have to enter a competition to save something they love/their way of life. Kate Connolly, or Puck as she likes to be called (I didn’t like that: Puck makes me think of a boy, not a girl. Only tolerated because it’s Maggie Stiefvater, and because the story was in first person), enters into the Scorpio Races at first just as a way to get her brother Gabe to stay on the island. The real trouble comes a bit later in the story when it’s revealed that unless she and her brothers can come up with the money owing on their house to Malvern, the island’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Mr. Potter, they will have nowhere to live. They were orphaned several years ago, so they rely heavily on the eldest brother Gabe for income. Finn, her other brother, and Puck make teapots and sell them at the local general store.
As Puck and Sean get to know each other, it becomes obvious that they both need to win the competition, but this doesn’t seem to deter their friendship/eventual relationship. I did like how slow and realistic their romance developed, but it was really slow at the beginning, and there were a few pages where I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be a romance after all.
Something else that bothered me after a while is that while everything is structured each scene drove the story forward (slowly), it wouldn’t really be the end of the world if either of them lost. That’s why there was very little tension. It might suck for Puck–but she also says that Finn would have to go work at the mill and she would have to get a “real” job, and they would have to move into a smaller apartment in town. That would suck…but why do neither of you have “real” jobs in the first place? Why is it only the older brother’s responsibility to provide, especially if the house is clearly on the line? On the other hand, it’s unclear what the time period this is in–the island people get mad that a woman would want to enter the races, and there’s talk of the women’s suffrage movement…but it kind of had a modern feel to it, albeit, rural.
Sean lives in a cramped apartment near the stables where he works. He seems to have a subtle magical ability to communicate with the horses that isn’t completely explained, but that actually works here. He’s won the Scorpio Races four times. You would think that he would be swimming in riches, but his boss Malvern takes a large percentage of the cut. Sean just loves the horses and particularly the horse that he always races, Corr. But Sean doesn’t own Corr. Malvern does. But without Sean at the stables, no one would be able to control the vicious water horses. So Malvern eventually makes a deal with Sean: if he wins the race, he can have Corr. If he looses…well, he just doesn’t win Corr at the discounted price that Malvern is offering, and while Sean wants to quit the stables, it’s pretty obvious that he’s needed there and can’t stay away from his precious.
So as you can see, there is a complicated plot that is interesting to read through…but there just isn’t enough tension to warrant the promotional quote, “It’s the first of November, and today, someone will die.” Even though the horseys will eat you if you get in their way.
Puck & Sean were well-developed. There were a few other characters like Malvern and Malvern’s maleficent son, Mutt, and George Holly, the American tourist who ends up being an uncle-figure to Sean; these people stood out from Stiefvater’s slowly seductive writing. There are many other names & faces in the book because being from a small island, everyone knows everyone, and I think that maybe on a second or third read, these names would be better remembered. I often mixed up Puck’s brothers, Finn and Gabe, because they seemed a bit similar to me, despite their different life-goals.
Besides that, they were interesting to follow and it was my eagerness to see where Puck & Sean’s story would intertwine that guided me through the narrative. I think I enjoyed Sean a bit more than Puck. His seemingly magic way with the horses made him an intriguing character.
This review turned out to be longer than I wanted, and made it look like I didn’t like the book. That’s not true. I did really enjoy it. I was maybe expecting more tension/excitement from it, though, and I was let down by that.
Sometimes pretty writing can get in the way of plot being obvious. Some people like that. I prefer stories that a little more fast paced, and I’m not a big horse person, but I still love her writing style. Other people who don’t really like Maggie Stiefvater may not appreciate this book, or this rating.