101 of 105 people found the following review helpful
Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place where nothing is earned easily, whether it be money or respect. Sean Kendrick has found that out himself, scraping by as a stable worker. He's no ordinary stable hand, however, since he is the only one able to truly control the fearsome capaill uisce, the carnivorous water horses that emerge from the sea. Each year, Sean races his beloved water horse, Corr, in the potentially deadly Scorpio Races. Despite the odds in his favor, there's much more at stake in this year's race. Puck Connolly, on the other hand, never meant to go near the Scorpio Races, but her own hard luck has changed that. As the two navigate the difficult paths given to them, they must decide which risks are worth taking.
THE SCORPIO RACES stands out as Stiefvater's most well-written book to date. Her writing remains beautiful and evocative, and it does so this time without ever feeling overdone. She constructs a palpable sense of mood and place using her words, and the characters have authentic personalities and motivations based on what's shared about their pasts. Certain emotional and haunting scenes have stayed with me long after I finished, and I got goosebumps while reading more times than I could count. As a standalone novel, the story was satisfying and complete in itself, and the aching closing scene had me thinking about it for days. Other strong points of the novel included its unique water horse mythology (which was explained well without too much telling) and the focus on the strengths of Sean and Puck and the meaningful relationship each had with his or her horse. When a romance did surface, it was reflective of the characters involved and based on mutual respect and admiration.
Despite these strengths, I wasn't able to give the book five stars due to a few weak points. The story was very slow in the beginning and didn't pick up until about page 160. Told in alternating first-person perspectives, the voices also felt too similar at times. Though this is the best book overall that I've read from Stiefvater, I didn't get caught up in the characters and their emotions like I did in her faerie books (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Gathering of Faerie) and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie). I expect that this story will appeal to a smaller audience than her Shiver (Wolves of Mercy Falls) novels due to its focus on the human-horse relationships and its slow pacing and quiet romance.
Even with these few small qualms, I greatly enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES because of its gorgeous writing, tangible sense of place, and strong, resilient characters. After reading this, I can't wait to see what Stiefvater's two forthcoming standalone novels will bring. It feels like her work will continue to get better and better.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Maggie Stiefvater has already mastered faeries and werewolves. But in "The Scorpio Races," she turns her sights to a more obscure supernatural creature -- deadly Celtic water-horses -- and wraps them in a story of blood, sea mist and windswept beaches. While the story itself is rather slow to unfold, it gives Stiefvater lots of time to flesh out her teen riders.
On a small Irish island, there is a special race every November. Many men and boys ride the capaill uisce (pronounced "copple ooshka") -- the swift, beautiful, bloodthirsty water horses, which want to either drown their riders or eat their flesh. They often succeed.
Puck is the first girl to ever enter the race, but terrible memories make her reluctant to accept a capall uisce, so she decides to ride her land mare, Dove. If she doesn't win, she and her brothers will lose their home. Sean Kendrick is a boy with a special knack with the capaill uisce. He catches, trains and sometimes kills the water horses, and no one knows their ways better than he does.
But as the race approaches, both the young riders are confronted by terrible problems -- the entire village is opposed to Puck racing, and Sean clashes with his cold, cruel employer over a prize stallion. And even as Sean and Puck grow closer, they begin to fall in love... but only one of them can possibly win the race.
"The Scorpio Races" is a story rich with Irish atmosphere -- salt spray, grey stones, ancient rituals and a tradition reaching back further than memory. And unlike most teen fantasies, this one doesn't have supernatural creatures who look like sexy teenage boys -- the capaill uisce are violent, wild beasts who crave blood and the sea, evoking both terror and awe.
Like her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, Stiefvater alternates between Sean and Puck's perspectives, giving us different glimpses of their lives. The only problem with the plot is that it moves very slowly, but Stiefvater splashes it with stormy action scenes and a climax that races by at lightning speed. And her prose is simply exquisite -- one capall uisce is "a fearful dull Pegasus with disintegrating wings of sea foam" and teeth "the color of dead coral."
Stiefvater also crafts a pair of truly compelling lead characters -- Puck is a fierce, strong-willed young woman hurt by the loss of her family, and unwilling to let anyone tell her what she can't do. And Sean is a near-silent young man who has an innate touch with all horses, and a passionate connection to the stallion Corr. Their romance is handled delicately, with few words and lots of horse-training; it's also unusually complicated, since they both desperately need to win the race, but only one can.
While recognizable in its poetic prose and haunting tone, "The Scorpio Races" is unlike any other book Stiefvater -- or other paranormal-romance writers -- have ever created. Slow but sublime.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2011
This is the story of a girl named Puck who lives on an island with her two brothers. Their parents were killed by these terrible "water horses" (fantasy horses who live in the sea and are ravenous), and so Puck and her two brothers are left to try to survive on their own. When Puck decides that she must ride in the Scorpio Races, she has no idea what she has signed up for. Cut-throat competitors, male chauvinistic pigs, and surprise ally.
The Scorpio Races was unlike anything I've read all year. Not only in terms of the story but mostly in the way that it was written. Maggie Stiefvater has a way with words. Her beautiful prose and luxurious writing style are second to none. If you've read Shiver, then you know what I'm talking about. The Scorpio Races' writing was so refined and so exquisite and yet, I don't think that many people will enjoy this read as much as I did. And it saddens me to say that because I really did love this book.
This book is not one for someone who is looking for a great love story where the characters are made for each other; where they pine for each other throughout the entire book. It is not an angsty read and if you're looking for a "romance novel", this is not it. It IS, however, a wonderful journey and although it may start out rather slow and confusing, once you're aware of what is going on you'll be dying to find out how it all ends.
I think I would recommend this for older YA readers, just because the characters are a little bit older and mature. It might be hard for a 12 year old to connect to the story. Also, it's hard to say "if you liked this book, then you might like The Scorpio Races" so instead I'll say if you're looking for a good story and aren't looking for romance, then you'd enjoy this one.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2012
I would actually give this book 3.5 stars.
Each November on the island of Thisby, the Scorpio Races occur. The Scorpio Races is not your average horse race. These horses are deadly. The capaill uisce are water horses caught from the Scorpio Sea around the island. They are uneasy to tame, blood-thirsty killers. Never trust a water horse.
Why ride in the races then?
Ask Puck Connolly, the first girl to ever attempt the races. With both of her parents dead, Puck and her two brothers, Gabe and Finn, struggle to make it through each day. Food is scarce and they are about to lose their home. With the huge cash prize for the winner, she decides that risking the deadly races is worth a shot. Only, no one on the island wants her racing in them. It's a struggle from the very beginning.
Then we have Sean Kendrick. Four-time winner of the races and the go-to guy for water horse advice and help. Sean also needs to win the races this year. If not, he may lose the thing he loves most, that is, until he meets someone who may take up that position herself. ;)
- - -
I hate to list any, because this book is so well-liked (which I have to admit, surprised me a bit) and it scares me that I didn't feel the same, but it must be done.
* The pace. This was my biggest problem. I was at 54% on my Kindle before I was finally interested enough to be excited to continue. Ms. Stiefvater teased us with all sorts of things, but then left us in the dust... waiting. Things just sort of diddled around for the first half. I don't even really see the point in it because even at 54% I was still asking "What the heck is going on?" as far as laying out the situation of the book goes. Specifics weren't given. WHEN, WHY, WHERE?
* The Races. It didn't last long enough. ALL of that build-up just for a few pages?! No! I was so disappointed. I kept telling my husband "The end of this book better make up for the beginning." I expected something huge to pop out and wow me. The races were definitely one of the best parts of the book, which is why I think it could have been longer and more detailed. Just... more.
What I liked:
* Maggie's writing is, of course, beautifully descriptive. I adore her writing style and she gives amazing visuals. I felt the magic, the ocean's pull, the atmosphere of the island, the characters feelings, and the brutality of the horses and races. I enjoyed this about Shiver as well (another of Maggie's books that had a 3.5 star from me). Her writing is truly truly magical and lovely.
* Alternating narratives. I am always a fan of it. Puck and Sean were both fantastic. I love a strong female character. Everyone wants Puck out of the races just because she is a girl, and her going up against that was nice to see. Sean - Sean was wild and sort of enigmatic. He has a rough-around-the-edges kind of appeal. He was a very intriguing character, and probably my favorite.
* I enjoyed that Maggie didn't focus completely on the romance aspect. It was definitely there (and you knew it from the beginning, of course), but it was subtle enough that it didn't take away from the real highlight of the story, which was the mythology of these horses and the Scorpio Races.
* This book is a huge step outside the norm. It's not vampires and werewolves and demons, oh my! It's something entirely unique to the genre and I have to say, that's one of my favorite things about this book. Don't get me wrong, I love vampires as much as the next gal, but it gets old - it can only be done in so many different ways! This book is so special if you have the patience to really look deep inside and appreciate it.
I think horse lovers would enjoy this book. I think it was hard to get through the first half, but was overall a really good book. It was beautifully written and even made me cry at the end. If you like Stiefvater's other books, you'll enjoy this one as well. If this is your first time reading anything of hers, have patience! The goodies are hidden in the back of the book, but they are there.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
I am sorry to say that I did not particularly care for this book. It was very slow to start with, and I felt it was fairly tedious to read. There was nothing particularly happy that happened at all. Now, I know that not all books have to be happy, but when a book is just... completely depressing... it's really kind of a drag.
The general premise of the book is that each year, vicious beasts (water horses) come to shore and men capture them to race them. If you manage to survive the horses, you might win the race.
The best part of the story (forgive my loose use of the word "best") was the budding relationship between Sean and Puck.
The worst part of the story was the family drama between Gabe, Finn, and Puck. The way that story was told left me ready to murder Gabe and smack Puck and Finn around until they all actually talked about what was going on and why it was happening. I mean, it's not at all okay for an older brother to decide to leave his younger siblings (who are orphans, I might add) knowing that they are going to lose their house and not even tell them. I mean, what kind of brother does that? His only explanation ends up being "I just can't bear it anymore." WHARRGARBL.
Even the end left much to be desired. While it could be argued that it was a nice and happy ending, I really have to disagree. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but suffice it to say that even the ending depressed me.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2011
"It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die." A great first line opens this fantasy about meat-eating, wild water horses and the people on a small island who attempt to train and race them once each year. Sean Kendrick has a special way with the capaill uisce and has won the race on his horse for the last four years. He works for the richest man in town training other horses both magical and ordinary. His dream is to buy his horse Corr but his boss knows that he can't afford to let Sean go. Sean is further tormented by his boss's son, a mean-spirited, jealous man who would do anything to see Sean fail. Meanwhile, Kate Connelly decides that the only chance she has to keep her older brother on the island and their ragged family intact is to ride in the races herself even though no women have ever entered the race. Terrified of the capaill uisce, she decides to ride her horse Dove against the water horses. This book has a lot to think about and presents what I think is a very realistic vision of life on a small island that relies on tourism. All the characters are shown with depth and flaws and the relationship between Sean and Kate builds slowly. I know that it is well-written and will probably be popular with teens, but I didn't enjoy it myself. The pace was entirely too slow and the seemingly unending deaths made for a looooonnnnng read for me. Reminds me a bit of something about small town life in Maine by Stephen King in terms of how the atmosphere of life on the island is explored in detail.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2011
Evocative and quietly mesmerizing, The Scorpio Races exceeded all my expectations. I was familiar with Maggie Stiefvater's lovely, almost poetic writing from her Wolves of Mercy Falls series, which I didn't really connect with due to sketchy plotting and some character issues. However, Stiefvater is obviously tremendously creative, and there was something intriguing about the water horse-focused synopsis of The Scorpio Races.
The story doesn't disappoint. The premise of ethereal, predatory horses - capaill uisce - rising from the ocean and being ridden in a deadly race works precisely because the magical elements are treated as normal and the plot is not bogged down by tedious explanations; they simply are. The perspective alternates between two orphaned, too-mature teenagers, Sean Kendrick and Kate "Puck" Connolly. I'm usually not fond of this type of narrative format, but it works perfectly here. It's especially fun to perceive the idiosyncratic residents of their rural island village from different points-of-view, as the book contains quite a few lovable side characters (Puck's brothers, in particular). The narrators - quiet, capable Sean and brash, stubborn Puck - are unique and endearing. The everybody-knows-each-other, small-town vibe of Thisby also provides a unique, atmospheric backdrop for a story that becomes more compelling with each turned page.
The understated romance is more satisfying for how subtly it is developed. The emphasis remains on the serious, life-changing ramifications of winning or losing the race. The culmination of the excellent plotting throughout the book - the race itself - is exciting and surprising, with high stakes and conflicting motives clashing with a sense of inevitability. The ending is beautiful, simple, and satisfying. Overall, The Scorpio Races is a touching, richly layered book that I absolutely loved.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2013
When I think about Maggie Stiefvater's book, The Scorpio Races, the word that comes to mind is subtle. It is a subtle book, with an ebb and flow that never hits you over the head with anything. Instead I felt as if I was carried along with the story as the messages of the book infused their way into my thoughts gradually. If you are a reader who likes for your reading experience to be quick paced and exciting, you might be disappointed in this book. There is nothing quick about the reading experience at all. I have always enjoyed Maggie's descriptive writing in all of the her books that I have read. She is a master of description. And this book is full of description. Lots and lots and lots of description. There are times in the book where I almost grew weary of the description. I was ready to get the story under way. The two main characters don't even meet until a hundred pages into the story. As I was reading I often felt like it was more similar to a good Victorian novel where a good portion of the book is simply setting things up for the faster paced ending of the story. Unlike our current culture where readers often expect a reward fairly early in the reading experience, this book takes awhile to get to its destination. If you are patient, it is worth your effort, but if you are not a patient reader, this may not be the book for you.
This is a book about killer horses. Okay, not really about killer horses, but there are some killer water horses running all over the place. Why this island promotes races between these water/land beasts where a good number of local men get slaughtered in the process is beyond me. It seemed senseless, but I guess all cultures have their bizarre customs and rituals that seem weird to those who aren't in the middle of it. The time and place of the story is kept purposefully vague. I felt as if it was an island in the northern part of the Atlantic off of Europe somewhere, and it seemed to take place in a less technological age, like maybe the 1950s. I don't know if it is important to be able to place the events going on, but for me it was helpful to visualize things as I read.
At the heart of this novel are the two main characters, Puck (Kate) and Sean. Puck has been basically forced into making a rash decision to enter the race in order to save her families home. Her mom and dad were killed by these water creatures, and now her oldest brother is leaving. With few chances to earn money, she will need to win the first prize for the race to pay the debt owed on the house. But she is the first woman to enter the race, and she chooses to ride her regular horse instead of the water horses. It won't be easy, and most of the island is rooting against her. Sean is the water horse expert of the island. If something goes awry with these creatures, Sean Kendrick is who they call. After a rough introduction, these two find a kinship in their love for the island and its equine animals. But Sean needs to win this race as well if he wants to earn a chance to buy his beloved water horse. Will they be able to work together, or will their competing goals work against each other?
I have to admit, this was a hard, hard book for me to get through. It took me a week to finish it, and much of that was only because of my own stubbornness and unwillingness to quit reading. I pushed through it. ... and I'm super glad that I did. Although it took a bit of patience to keep reading, once I finished the book I found a sweet story that just made me smile. Like I said at the beginning, it is a subtle book, and I appreciated so much of the subtlety within the pages. The relationships between all of the characters were not easy to define. From the main characters to even the most minor of secondary characters, each character had a depth that added a richness to the story. No one was terribly easy to define. Even Muck, the villain of this story, had a bit of tragedy attached to his actions. No cardboard characters in this story.
The story is told from the alternating views of Sean and Puck. I liked hearing inside both of their heads, especially Sean since he is a man of few words in real life situations. A bit of a problem with this is that there was very little difference in the two voices. Sean and Puck sounded almost identical as they told their sides of the story. I guess they are both similar, and that is why they are drawn to one another, but it seems like they should sound a bit different as I read them. Having said this, however, it didn't affect my enjoyment of the story so much.
The ending was beautiful. Subtle. In a book of subtlety, the ending was the ultimate example of it. It is an ending where one simple little action says so much. This book doesn't go out with a bang. But it doesn't go out with a whimper either. It goes out in a way that is completely in line with the tone of the entire book. I liked it.
I haven't read about this anywhere, so I don't know how to check it, but this book really felt like a labor of love for Maggie Stiefvater. As I read it felt to me as if these were words written from her heart. I don't know if it is any more true for this book than it is for any book written by a writer, but this book just seemed to have a heart to it that isn't always present in the books I read. It was refreshing. So my final verdict? If you think that you can sit back and enjoy the slow buildup and beautiful language of this book, I think that you will find a story to like very much, but if you are a bit impatient, this might be a difficult book to handle. For me, I ended up enjoying this one. I liked it. Three stars.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2011
I really wasn't sure on this one from the start. But, Maggie has such a unique way of writing her stories that I was more than willing to give it a try. I'm finding myself disappointed with her books as of late though.
The Scorpio Races was missing something. I never really felt connected to the story. I kept trying to feel something for Puck and Sean. I wanted to care about them and their reasoning behind running in the race. But, it never came. And since I wasn't invested in their stories, I had a hard time reading the book.
I did enjoy the mythology presented in this novel. I don't know a lot about the folklore behind the idea of the water horses. But, I really liked the way it was presented here. I did have a hard time wrapping my head around what they should look like. One minute I would imagine an actual horse but then it wouldn't fit with the action of killing someone. A lot of the time I kept picturing the thestrals for Harry Potter.
I just felt disconnected from the entire story. Not really memorable for me.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2012
You have no idea how much it pains me to write this review. This is the book I was looking forward to. The one that made me squeal like an excited 6 year old when it arrived in the mail. People absolutely RAVED about it.
BUt for me, it just didn't happen.
I read the first chapter and immediately I didn't connect with Puck. I didn't really feel her speaking to me. I just saw the words on the page, but I didn't actually care about her or get invested. I figured it was early on and surely I'd get attached to her later.
My next annoyance is from a little later, but still the beginning of the book. It's about the reason why Puck enters The Scorpio Races. First of all, I never got the impression that her entering was a big deal. I was waiting for some big monumental decision but it was basically just like:
"I'm going to enter the race."
The author, Maggie, did describe the dangers of The Scorpio Races and how brutal the horses are, but I just never got the impression that it was a big deal to Puck. She didn't seem scared or excited. I just had no idea what she was feeling and I didn't even know why she was entering (it wasn't made clear until later that the winner gets a lot of money). When she first said she was going to enter the race, she didn't seem phased by it, and her family didn't seem to mind at all.. which is my next frustration.
The Scorpio Races are supposed to be this huge deal. They're supposed to be terrifying and the sea horses are supposed to be ruthless. Well, her brother Gabe is an jerk. First he announces that he's abandoning his brother and his sister Puck. Then Puck says "I'll join The Scorpio Races!" Then Gabe is just like "Okay." He has absolutely no problem with letting his little sister join the most dangerous event on the island?
As the book progressed, I had to accept the fact that I was never going to care about Puck. I never connected with her. I never felt her emotions leaking off the page. I was never thinking to myself, "OMG SHE HAS TO WIN THE RACE!" I didn't even care if she won or not because I never got attached to her as a character. Finally, I just came to terms with it.
With each turn of the page, I developed a new frustration. Nothing was happening. There was no action; there were no events; nothing. The first ten pages was Puck deciding to enter the race and the last 20 pages were the race itself. So what the heck happened in between? We had like 380 pages of just "getting ready for the race." But none of that was intense or exciting. Most of it was Puck training her horse, chatting with neighbours, getting to know Sean, and maybe once every 50 pages something exciting might happen.
I just felt like I had no idea where the story was going. I never cared about any of the characters. I felt like most of the characters outside of the main ones had little importance.
There were times when I too would start reading a chapter and then go "Wait, who's point of view is this?" and I'd have to double-check the chapter heading. I didn't feel a real difference between Puck and Sean. They were both quiet, reserved, and didn't really care. Neither of them ever got excited or expressed true happiness. They just both felt so monotone.
So this review isn't completely negative, I will say that Maggie Stiefvater did have a beautiful writing style in this book. The descriptions and the wording of the novel were artfully done -- really terrific. Unfortunately it just wasn't enough to make up for my disappointments.
I'm sorry, Maggie, I really am. I wanted to love this book because I absolutely love horses and I've loved similar race stories like Hidalgo.. but this one just didn't resonate with me. Believe it or not (since most people feel the opposite), I actually enjoyed Shiver more.