Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

Books That Rock: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.

Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition —  the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive.

Forget vampires and werewolves (hallelujah!) — capall uisce ought to be the new mythological creature of choice. Perhaps I ought to clarify. Water horses ought to be the new mythological creature of choice, but only if the author can write with as deft and accomplished a hand as Miss Maggie Stiefvater.

Despite the fact that most of the horses featured in this book are the kind that would devour or drown you so much as look at you, there’s something about The Scorpio Races that brought back the nostalgia of my childhood — back when I inhaled every horse book that was put in front of me (even the really bad ones) and rented The Black Stallion every. single. time. we went to the video store. This book made me wish my horse-crazy, eight year old niece was a bit older, so we could enjoy it together.

But this is more than a simple horse story, lest you non-horsey people start to believe you ought to pass this one up. For all that the water horses and the Scorpio Race itself play an integral role in the plot, they are merely a vehicle to tell the story of  Puck’s fight to keep her family together and Sean’s quest to discover what he really needs in life (though Sean’s relationship with his Corr is a beautiful and heartbreaking thing to behold). There are two reasons why this book won all the awards this year and their names are Puck and Sean. There’s just something about this brave, feisty girl and this quiet, intense, passionate lad that is so utterly irresistible, and together . . . whoo, boy, somebody get me a fan. Though we are only privy to a few kisses shared between the two of them, the slow build-up of tension throughout the course of the novel lends Sean and Puck’s relationship a more than satisfying amount of swoon factor. To quote the delightful Tommy Falk:

“They’re saying that you and Sean Kendrick were burning up the cliffs. And when I say you and Sean Kendrick, I mean you and Sean Kendrick. And by burning, I mean burning.”

Perhaps I should amend my early statement and give a third reason why The Scorpio Races has been so successful this year: the isle of Thisby, where the book takes place. The island has a timeless quality to it. ‘Twere Thisby a real place, mentions of late model vehicles, home rule and suffragettes might suggest a setting in the earlier half of the twentieth century in a location somewhere off the coast of Ireland. Never quite out of sight, however, are the older, wilder ways, with the magnificent stone structures, primitive cave paintings of the capall uisce, and talk of human sacrifice being common practice before the Scorpio Race not fifty years prior. If Thisby were a character (which of course it is, so deeply has this unique place been woven into the threads of the story), it would be a fickle lover, enticing a select few of its residents and visitors who grace its shores, and scorning those who hold no appreciation for the delights of its rich history and traditions.

I leave you with one last reason why this book is not to be missed: Finn. What, did you think I’d neglect to mention Puck’s little brother? As if I could. I’ve never met a (literary) Finn I haven’t liked, and this one, with all his quirks and foibles and fierce love for his sister, was no exception. The way he stood by Puck and believed in her even when her choices scared him to death makes me hold firm to my belief that everyone needs a Finn in their life.

Did those reasons provide sufficient encouragement to drop what you were doing and read this book? No? Well, then I offer you one last tasty morsel: November Cakes. Is that drool I see on your keyboard? My bad.


Now for the rockin’ and/or rollin’ part of this Books that Rock review, where I provide a soundtrack of sorts that describe events occurring in the chosen book (be warned that spoilers may occur in the song descriptions). If you haven’t yet read the book, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the music.


The selections for this particular Books that Rock review are a tribute to the wonderful Matthew and the Atlas, a recently dissolved alt-folk band who share the same timeless quality as this novel. Thank goodness I was able to catch one of their gigs for a second time before the members went their separate ways.
Matthew and the Atlas: Fisherman’s Wife

The line “the fisherman’s wife is now departed/she crossed earth and stone to be free” and the somber mood of this song captures the mindset of those, like Puck’s brother Gabriel, who are not enchanted by the island and cannot wait to flee to the mainland.

Matthew and the Atlas: Beneath the Sea

Honestly, can you think of a better song to describe the nature of the capall uisce than one including the line “follow me beneath the sea”? Pretty sure that would be a no.

Matthew and the Atlas: I Followed Fires

With its rollicking, banjo driven arrangement and haunting harmonies, this song screams exciting, deadly horse race to me (even though the lyrics, regrettably, have nothing to do with man-eating horses being raced along a beach).


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