Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic | October 18, 2011

"This island cares nothing for love, but it favors the brave," says Sean Kendrick to Puck Connolly. He speaks of their home, Thisby, a small island somewhere off the coast of the U.K. In the roiling sea off the coast of their beloved Thisby live the capaill uisce - killer, meat-eating, swimming horses of the sea. Each October, they begin to come onto the land and the citizens of Thisby - the brave ones, anyway - prepare them to ride in the Scorpio Races, held each year on November 1.

Puck (whose real name is Kate) is orphaned and holding herself and her siblings together, barely, in their childhood home. When Gabe, her older brother, announces he's leaving Thisby behind for the mainland, Puck declares she's riding her own non-capall uisce mare in the races in order to win the money to keep their home from being foreclosed upon. Sean, orphaned himself, is a bit of a capaill uisce-whisperer; he is one of the only people who can work successfully with the fierce animals, and has a deep relationship with a capall uisce, Corr. He works at the stables of Benjamin Mulvern, the very man who may take away Puck's home.

As they each prepare to run in the races, learning who is friend and who is foe, Puck and Sean begin to care for each other in a way neither expected. As the day when someone will die rapidly approaches, both Sean and Puck realize they must win the race to get what they need and also realize, and grapple with, the fact that this means the other will not.

One of the most awesome characters in this 2012 Printz Honor book is the island itself. The detailed descriptions of the beach and the cliffs as well as the village and people is credit to Stiefvater's storytelling. A friend said to me, "the character development in this novel is just outstanding!" She also said she wanted more of Sean and added, a bit cheekily, but impressing upon me how well written these characters are, "I want to date Sean." Well, yes. But no. We can't want that too much because Sean belongs to Puck and to Corr and to the island.

There are many myths and legends from this region of the world - the selkies, for instance, and Stiefvater invents her own legend handily here. Do not let the premise scare you off - while the book is indeed about a bloody race on the beach it really isn't. It's about so much more: love, bravery, loyalty, and independence along with finding someone (or something) important and figuring out what that means.

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