Tuesday, December 27, 2011
A Race Like No Other
Maggie Stiefvater is the author who gave us the Shiver trilogy. You often wonder how an author will follow up a bestselling story, and hopefully it will live up to the reason you liked them in the first place. Since I had a tumultuous relationship with Shiver, I was anxious to read something else she had written. I needed to know if my love and dislike for the series was just that series, or something about the way Stiefvater writes. So, with a little skepticism rolling around, I picked up The Scorpio Races, unsure of how I was going to like it.
Puck grew up on Thisby, an island where no one really lives, people just survive. Thisby is special, though. Once a year, the mythical, murderous creatures called water horses climb out of the sea. While everyone should and is scared of the water horses, which live off blood and fresh meat, the entire island becomes alive with excitement when they bound from the sea because of the Scorpio Races. Each year, the island men capture and train water horses for two weeks before riding them in the most exciting and dangerous race anyone has ever seen. The tourism for this event is the only thing keeping Thisby alive at this point. When Puck's brother threatens to move to the mainland and Puck and her other brother will be left on Thisby with no house and no way to support themselves, Puck does the only thing she can to keep her older brother on the island just a little longer- she announces she is going to enter in the races.
Sean Kendrick is a gentle soul who loves and fears the water horses. He has won the race four years in a row, but since his beloved water horse, Corr, is owned by his boss, most of the winnings aren't his to keep. He is the only man who can control the water horses, but his only reason for staying at the horse farm and competing in the races is to stay closer to Corr. When Puck enters her regular pony, not a water horse, into the race, Sean is sure she is going to get herself and her pony killed. He reluctantly agrees to help train her, mostly because he can't stop thinking about her. As the race grows nearer, it becomes clear that both Puck and Sean need to win this race- Puck in order to live and have a roof over her head, and Sean in order to be able to buy Corr from the owner of the stables. Both want the other to win, but neither can imagine losing. The Scorpio Races this year on Thisby are not only groundbreaking because it is the first time a girl or a regular pony has ridden, but because of how much everyone has riding on the outcome.
So my skepticism aside, I have to say this was a really beautiful book. Stiefvater has a poetic, magical way of describing the world she has created that keeps you turning the pages. However, I remember feeling the same way when I finished Shiver. The problem only came about with her second and third books where there wasn't enough story to keep the trilogy going and the beautiful language wasn't enough to hold it all together. I hope she will leave this book as a stand-alone story, because it really is quite nice and quite beautiful. Any additional books would only ruin the effect of this story.
Because the language isn't terribly direct or always very clear, I would suggest this book for an older, stronger reader, or a student who has read and like Stiefvater's books already. It would clearly bog down a less skilled reader and might frustrate them into putting the book down. It is a beautiful story for any adult who enjoys mythology, especially repurposed mythology. These aren't your typical water horses, sometimes called kelpie, but they are beautiful versions of the old myths. I have to say I loved this story, and it made for a beautiful magical read, but let's just hope Stiefvater leaves this to its own devices and moves on to another project. I would hate to feel about the Scorpio Races like I eventually felt about Shiver.