Maggie Stiefvater has a pair of series that have made her a name in YA fantasy, but in my circles, I’ve heard as much or more about her 2011 stand-alone featuring high-stakes races on the backs of murderous water horses. And with the two first-person narrators fitting perfectly into one of the trickiest of bingo squares, I thought it was high time to give The Scorpio Races a read.
The story is split between our pair of narrators, Sean and Puck, who live on a small island that every fall is stormed by predatory, carnivorous horses—the capaill uisce—riding in from the sea. At the beginning of November, the islanders race these horses, with the winner gaining glory and a fat purse, and many of the losers never again leaving the beach. Sean spends his life training and racing horses, both mundane and capaill, but even multiple victories in the Scorpio Races have not been enough to purchase his favored mount from his employer. Puck, on the other hand, is a lover of ordinary horses. But a year after her parents were killed by capaill uisce, her money is running out, and her older brother sees no recourse but to leave his siblings behind and strike out to make his fortune on the Mainland. For both, victory in the Races could be enough to reverse their fortunes and grant what they hold most dear.
The decision to split between a pair of protagonists immediately creates narrative tension—there are two heroes, but can only be one winner. And the danger posed by the capaill uisce, constantly reinforced by deadly training mishaps and other October encounters, ratchets it up even further. However, some of the setup made it difficult for me to completely suspend disbelief and lean into the tension. Puck and her older brother suffer from a horrible case of “why can’t you just talk to each other,” and, while Stiefvater paints a compelling picture of why Puck stays in the race once she’s entered, the initial decision comes off sudden and jarring.
The difficulty immersing in the first place kept me from being totally enthralled by The Scorpio Races, but for those with a little more patience for tension created by snap decisions and poor communication, it’s worth a long look. The characters develop organically, there’s a sweet little romantic subplot, and the race itself is thrilling. While I wasn’t as enamored as some, I still enjoyed it, and I can certainly see the cause for praise.
Recommended if you like: YA, fantasy sports, horses.
Can I use it for Bingo? I only see one obvious square, but it’s a doozy. The Scorpio Races fits 1st Person POV hard mode, which requires multiple 1st person POVs and for my money is one of the most difficult hard mode squares on the board.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.