The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio RacesI had mixed feelings before reading this book.

A while ago, I tried reading Shiver – probably the most well-known book by Maggie Stiefvater – and never finished it. I got up to chapter 2 and never went any further. It certainly wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t interesting, either. I had to return it to the library, and never had the compulsion to take it out again.

But The Scorpio Races was on sale, so I bought it. And this is what happened.

Plot Summary

People race flesh-eating horses and try not to die.

Fine, I’ll give you the official blurb from my copy of the book:

Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible. (Awesome, right?)

When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is (and this is where the summary becomes terrible and cliché and completely misleading) drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the beasts.

Even if they stay together, can they stay alive? (It sounds exactly like a bad YA romance now, doesn’t it?)

A breathtaking ride that will make your heart race. (And even more misleading information was given out on the damn UK edition)

Cons

Blurb

That blurb (I’m looking at you up there) is incredibly misleading.

First of all, Sean isn’t exactly mysterious. I mean, he’s sort of mysterious to Puck – in that brooding, silent way – but half the book is told from his perspective. Yep, we spend half of this 400+ page book in this guy’s head, listening to his thoughts and fears and ambitions and emotions. Doesn’t make him very mysterious to us.

And also, the blurb makes it sound like this entire book is going to pivot around their romance (which it does not. I counted two kisses total, and both are extremely short). The story is really about family and friendship and loyalty and fighting gender roles and the power of the underdog and so on and so on. The romance does not hold very much gravity towards the story, which is a nice change in YA fiction.

And lastly, it’s not a fast book. It’s not action packed and full of the races, it’s mostly the build-up towards the races that matters. It’s how the races affect the characters and how the races reflect the attitude of the island as a whole. It’s a lot of world building and it’s very atmospheric with character development and a really interesting back story; not just battle scenes and race scenes and bloody fight scenes.

No Sequel

The rational part of me is happy. The book doesn’t make sense to be part of a series, it’s centred around the races and how they affect this one storyline and it’s very inclusive and ties up all the ends. I prefer an author to take the decision and know when to end their story or stop writing about their world instead of carry it on and on and on until it’s dragging and repetitive and irrelevant. (e.g. what I’m worried The Mortal Instruments will turn into, since Cassandra Clare plans to end up with a lot of freaking books just based around shadowhunters. Three was enough, six was more than enough, but now…)

Please welcome irrational me to the stage, who is going to speak. And irrational me begs for more about Puck and Sean and the entire world because it was so intense and evocative and emotionally investing and I fell in love with the characters, even the hateful ones like the Malverns, because they were all so real with little quirks and traits and were so well developed. And, most importantly, completely believable. At least a little novella to maybe just to see how our characters are doing?

Voices

Puck and Sean were kind of indistinguishable. Not in terms of personality, in terms of their Point of Views. At times, I lost track of who was speaking and what was happening, or I’d think I knew and then suddenly they’d talk about themselves in a different gender and I’d get confused. But it wasn’t really much of an issue.

The Name “Puck”

Can someone please explain to me how you get “Puck” from “Kate”? I was really hoping that name would be explained, but nope.

Pros

I will put it this way, if I stay up late reading a book, I know that that book is good. The only times I will do that is if I either get really hooked, the book is so fast paced that I can’t bear to put it down, or the storyline keeps ending in cliffhangers.

The book was neither fast paced, nor riddled with cliffhangers.

And when I finished it, damn, I felt empty. I felt so out of touch with the reality of the world, so out of touch sitting in my room, isntead of the gloomy beaches in Thisby, that I went back to reread the last chapter, just because I didn’t want to leave the amazing, immersive world of The Scorpio Races.

Atmosphere

The book was incredibly atmospheric. I really want to reread it, not only because I loved it, but also because I want to know how Maggie Stiefvater created such an intense, chilling mood, and made me feel like it was really on this cold, unwelcoming beach, looking out to the dangerous sea. It was all so incredibly vivid, incredibly real, and so completely addicting. She has a brilliant way with creating such wonderful imagery, that in some ways it reminded me of The Night Circus, another book with gorgeous language and very clear pictures. Maggie Stiefvater is certainly a very very good writer.

Another way that it’s similar to the Night Circus, is what the book centres around. Really, Puck and Sean are minor characters in this book, the main being the Scorpio Races. As they show, the Island is a character. It is harsh and unforgiving and dangerous, but Puck loves it all the same, the way Sean loves the beastly creatures that are the water horses (I would give it the proper name, but frankly, my bookshelf is too far away and I’m feeling particularly lazy at the moment).

Fairytale

I really loved how the book felt like a fairytale. Again, I don’t know how, and I don’t know what Maggie Stiefvater did to make it feel that way. I loved Thisby, this island that seemed timeless, and it’s strange customs and it’s mystical, mysterious, gothic quality that it had. I haven’t read a lot of Fairytale-esque books, but of the ones I have read, I’ve always loved. So maybe it’s my own personal taste that made me love the dark fairytale this is.

Love Triangle

You may wonder why this is in the Pros section. Most times, I absolutely despise the love triangle. But this time, it wasn’t a typical love triangle, but something much, much better.

Puck needs to win the race because she’s extremely poor and soon to be evicted from her home. It’s her last, desperate chance to be able to support her family. Sean’s favourite horse is Corr, who he absolutely loves, and the owner will only let Sean buy his horse if Sean wins. Puck’s not torn between Sean and another sexy guy, she’s torn between him and her love for her family. Because they can’t both win, so inevitably, one of them is going to lose something they love.

And that is why I love this conflict so much. Even though both of them really do like each other (it’s more like adorable, awkward teenage romance than full-blown starcrossed love that will beat the universe), their bonds of friendship and family are far more important.

Characters

The minor characters were all brilliantly three dimensional. Sometimes crass and scary and dangerous and idiotic and hypocritical and manipulative, but possessing good qualities like loyalty and kindness and generosity…etc. They were all developed and distinguishable, instead of bland clichés made to make the main characters look better.

Puck and Sean were brilliant and very believable. They were realistic and actually likeable, which is a nice change to what usually happens with me and characters. And they felt really three dimensional; they didn’t take one cliché and build around it like most books do, even my favourite books, as it’s very hard not to do that. But they felt like real, breathing, living people. And their love of wild, dangerous things was a really nice aspect. We can see how much Sean cares for the water horses, how he devotes his entire life to understanding and caring for them, even though they could kill him. We see Puck’s complete longing to stay on the harsh island forever, and how she is unable to understand why people would want to leave. It echoed the whole reason why the races exist in the first place, because the people couldn’t resist the temptation of danger.

Believable Romance

I actually routed for Puck and Sean to get together. Puck feels awkward and unsure when talking to Sean, and vice versa, but they also bicker and disagree and it’s nice to see something that could realistically happen. And their relationship is actually built on liking each other’s personality, and lots of long talks, instead of a conversation then ten make out scenes like a lot of YA romance. It’s the type of romance I would reread because it’s not really heavily spread on or nauseatingly sugary, as we see that they value their friendship and respect even more than their romance.

Quotes

  • “You leave nothing to assumption,” Dory Maud says. “You swallow her with your eyes. I’m surprised there’s any of her left for the rest of us to see.”
  • “It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand.”
  • “The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr.”
  • “Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, says the sea, but I don’t believe her.”
  • “We are shoulder to shoulder due to the size of the cab, and if Gratton is made of flour and potatoes, Sean is made of stone and driftwood and possibly those prickly anemones that sometimes wash up on shore.”
  • “There are too many people on horseback today trying to prove themselves, trying to prepare, trying to get faster. They haven’t discovered yet that it’s not the fastest who make it to race day.
    You only have to be the fastest of those who are left.”

Overall

I was contemplating how to rate this. I knew it would be high, since I loved it, but I didn’t know how high. My instant thought was 5 shuriken stars, but I was reluctant. But really, there’s nothing substantial I didn’t like about the book. Just thinking about it makes me want to reread it (I reread some of it to put off work and it was still as awesome as the first time), and I loved the many themes touched upon, as well as the characters, the entire atmosphere and the world building of this fantasy setting. So what the hell, I’m going to give it 5 shuriken stars, because the more I think about it, the more it is one of my favourite books.

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