Monday, June 25, 2012

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

I will confess that I really didn't want to read this book and that it took me a long time to get into it. But after finishing it I have to admit it was extremely well-written and original, with a compelling (if slowly-paced) plot. The heart of this story is the island of Thisby, a rugged place where life is hard and children grow up and leave as soon as they can. What makes Thisby unique are the bloodthirsty water horses that rise up out of the water each year and are tamed and ridden by the men of the island. The fierce water horses (or  capaill uisce—pronounced cappel ishka—as they are called) eat human flesh and drown their riders. The islanders race the horses each November in a dangerous and deadly race that brings the island brief fame and an economic burst. That's the background, and the island and the horses are central to the story. But the book is really about two teenagers who enter the races as strangers but slowly come together in spite of their rivalry. The book alternates between the viewpoints of Sean Kenndrick (an orphaned young man who has won the Scorpio Races four times and loves his water horse Corr more than life itself) and Kate "Puck" Connelly (also orphaned and racing to earn money to save her family's home and to keep her oldest brother from leaving for the mainland). Steifvater makes Thisby, with it's foggy, cold beach and crusty inhabitants seem like a real place. She also brings Puck and Sean to life slowly and deliberately until by the last chapters you know your heart will break because there is no way they both can achieve what they wish for. This is definitely a notable book—the starred reviews show that. For a reader with the persistence and patience to stay with it and live in Thisby for a while it will be a rewarding read.

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