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 book has pretty much everything that makes for a great story: a wayward island during an undisclosed long-gone time period, violent sea horses, a race to the death, a determined girl who wants to prove she’s worth every man’s life, a determined young man who wants to own the one thing that’s truly home to him, and then some. Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, much like her Raven Cycle series, overflows with myths and magic. This time, the story takes place on an island somewhere along the British Isles that is famous for its yearly Scorpio Races. From all around the world, breeders, buyers and onlookers arrive to watch men risk their lives in a race of monstrous water horses, the capaill uisce, which settles an unspoken debt the islanders seem to have with their home, the spilling of blood to keep its ancient sorcery tame.
Right in the middle of it are our two protagonists Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly, both orphans who ride the races due to their own personal conflicts. While Sean is the island’s horse-whisperer and locally synonymous with his uisce stallion Corr, Puck and her mare Dove have no reputation that preceed them. When Puck decides to participate in the competition, she’s not only the first female rider but also the first not to ride a seahorse. The men of the island try to deter her every chance they get. Except for Sean, that is.
What absolutely fascinated me about this read was that Stiefvater painted an astonishing picture of beauty and horror, affection and brutality. Despite the fact that the book has passages that drag on here and there, the storytelling works wonderfully. Sean and Corr’s connection and the presence it has within the book is what ultimately runs the novel for me. And while Puck and mare’s inner turmoil can be a little bit too naïve and illogical at times, she also manages to leave quite the impression by the end of the book because of her determination and bravery. The romance in the novel never borders on too much or cheesy, in fact I find that in Sean and Puck, Stiefvater has created a relationship that doesn’t need too much of it to function well on page. Which, considering Shiver bordered on Twilight clichés, surprised me immensely. The two both get each other and the island in a way it was natural for their lives to be entangled. There was no rush, no need for it, either. It seems that the lack of romantic scenes is what ultimately makes it more meaningful and exciting, even. It’s not about romance, it’s about an understanding of the island and the sea and the love for the to and fro.
The Scorpio Races is fantastical yet disturbing, magical and adventurous, a stunning read of legends and times long past. It has its weak moments, sure, but its ending erases most of your doubts because it is, simply put, beautiful. Despite the fact that her world is drowning in a battle of age-old magic and new-age change and fighting, fighting, fighting, Stiefvater teaches us that sometimes, the magic within us is enough to conquer all of it if you’re brave enough.