Each November on the shores of Thisby, violent, uncontrollable water horses— mythical creatures found in Celtic stories—appear, preying on livestock and people alike. A time of fear and early nights for most, November signals the start of the Scorpio races. Deadly and difficult, the Scorpio races are a way to attain glory, fame, and riches—if a rider can survive, that is.
For Sean Kendrick, four-time winner of the Scorpio races, this year is about more than just winning a fat purse for his employer; it is about buying his beloved water horse, Corr, from his owner. Corr is the only family Sean has—his father was killed in the races, and his mother abandoned him as a child. For Puck Connolly, this year is about keeping her older brother from leaving the island, and she is willing to ride a land horse, which is seen only as a food source, against its bloodthirsty aquatic brethren to do so. Sean and Puck both discover that the Scorpio Races will threaten not just their own lives, but also their newfound friendship.
Filled with action, gore, and just a hint of romance, “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater holds appeal for girls and boys alike. Unlike many current young adult novels, Stiefvater’s avoids using nauseating love triangles or glamorized violence to define the plot, instead using these elements only when necessary to carry it. This fantasy novel displays deft evolution of characters, a refreshing shift for a young adult novel. Puck and Sean grow far beyond their merely hinted-at origins. Sean, who starts out as a hardened orphan, grows to respect and even be charmed by Puck, and eventually by others as well. On the other hand, Puck begins the novel as a scared girl: her older brother, her only protector, is leaving for the mainland. She displays bravery by deciding to ride in the Scorpio races as their first-ever female competitor. With lyrical prose, Stiefvater brings to life a world where elegance is deadly and gore walks hand-in-hand with beauty. However, at times, her fluid writing style leaves something to be desired when a clear, short sentence would work better than her long, flowery prose at conveying the intensity and action of a scene. Reminiscent of the water that surrounds Thisby, her dancing, lilting prose amplifies its importance to both the island and the story.
Stiefvater plays with base human motivations, weaving a story filled with emotion. But unlike other teen novels, they are not purely romantic. Rather, she uses sorrow and fear and hatred, twisting them into a complex canvas that underscores the lighter feelings of friendship and family. However, as the story is told in first person from both Puck’s and Sean’s perspective in alternating chapters, the two voices of the characters sometimes blur together, the emotions and motivations becoming one. Unless the reader pays close attention to the name at the beginning of each chapter, the story can be hard to follow.
Other than a few stylistic problems, Stiefvater has created what is sure to become the newest hot teen fantasy novel. Her writing is easy to read and sucks you in; however, her story will keep you up even later than Stuyvesant students already are, so wait until all work is done to pick it up.