November 19, 2011

Book Review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Young Adult urban fantasy

Those who know me understand how passionately I feel about Maggie Stiefvater's work, so I was excited to crack her newest book open. The story is set on the island of Thisby where every year magical, killer water horses climb out of the sea and roam the beaches in search of human flesh. My friend Tori likes to call them 'horse nymphs', but trust me when I say they're much more awe-inspiring than they sound. It's tradition that the locals try and tame these beasts and ride them in a deathly festival called the Scorpio Races. Puck decides to ride her own, non-magical horse in order to keep a roof over her family's heads. Sean races because it's in his blood: he's described as having 'one foot on land, one foot in the sea'. This story is about what happens when two people with a lot to lose choose to race--and fight for--each other in a world that's as beautiful as it is deadly.

If I could only use one word for this book it would have to be atmospheric. That's the thing I loved most about it: the island of Thisby is a character on its own, one that influences and affects each character profoundly and in different ways. The descriptions of setting are stunning, so visceral that you really do feel like you're there. It makes you want to be there, even if it does have demon horses. Stiefvater uses townsfolk and local lore in a way that makes Thisby jump off the page. I don't know how she does it--only that, as a writer, I wish I did.

The magical element is taut and unique. I was a huge horse girl when I was younger, so I loved reading the race descriptions and all the talk about bits and snaffles.

There are a lot of YA novels that go very, very heavy on the hunky, sexy love angle; I can really only take so many pages of heavy petting. But the love story here is beautifully crafted and totally understated, which made this story special for me. So much of what goes on between them happens in subtext as they quietly edge their way towards a relationship. I love that neither one of them had to give up who they were in order to be together. There was definitely sexy tension, and it was powerful without being anywhere near overpowering. This book is, above all, about connection, not just between two lovers but between family members, human and nature, man and beast.

The writing is, as always, beautiful, and the narrative voice is strong and sure. This is a unique and lovely book; if you're into YA, it isn't to be missed.

**Update 5/4/2014: I have now listened to the audiobook version of this novel an embarrassing number of times and recommend it very highly. If you're into being read to, it's a real gem.**

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