Friday, April 20, 2012

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a small island in the British Isles, the locals are getting ready for the November races. Every year, riders team up with cappaill uisce, legendary water horses that are both bloodthirsty and beautiful. Sean Kendrick has won the races four times on his beloved red stallion, Cor. He is favored to win again. Puck Connolly lives on the island with her two brothers. Their parents were killed by the deadly cappaill horses and the children now face losing everything to the richest man on the island who holds the mortgage to their home. Oldest brother Gabe decides to move to the mainland to escape the island's memories. Puck, in a desperate attempt to save her family, enters the races with her land mare, Dove. She is the first woman ever to ride in the races and faces prejudice and hostility as she readies for the deadly contest.

It was not a bad book. A lot of it was very well done, and the prose generally flows well. The writing is lyrical and haunting at times. The characters are well drawn and have depth and emotion. The island and it's horse-centered life is often breathtaking in its scope, running from beauty and simple pleasures to greed, loss and death.

All that said, there were a few things that just didn't work for me. First, the story is told from the points of view of both Puck and Sean, in first person alternating chapters. The chapters (or parts of chapters) are labeled when the POV shifts, but I still found myself confusing the voices at times and having to stop to figure out the "he" and "she" references.

And then there were the caipall uisce. They are drawn from legends of the mythical kelpies, horses that live in the sea and rivers of Scotland and Ireland, and lure children to climb onto their backs after which they jump back into the water and drown their victim and eat them. The caippall uisce in the story appear to be normal horses on land, but larger and beautiful. My problem was that I couldn't get around the questions of how a horse breathes underwater, and how the caippall could swim as fast and strongly as they did. There is some vague indication that the caipall undergo a "change" in the water, but it is never clear and that bothered me. The author does provide and afterword that explains some of the legend, but the questions as I read the story kept me from really losing myself in it.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending as well. Not to give any spoilers, but I thought a different end would have strengthened the relationships that were being forged along the way. I suppose, however, given the target audience of the book, the ending was a good choice. It just left me a little less than satisfied. It seemed a little too "happy ever after" for me.

Despite the problems I had, I thought it was a good read. The basic story is well written, the characters are relatable, and the conflicts, both large and small, are realistic. The setting is haunting and enticing at the same time, much like the caipall uisce themselves. It's a good, worth reading YA novel.

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