Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

From Goodreads:

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 if10626594 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 chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

“I’m so full of an unnamed wanting that I can’t bear it.” — Maggie Steifvater, The Scorpio Races

Maggie Steifvater, I’m really ashamed that this is the first book of yours I’ve read. Because I am undone by The Scorpio Races.

Maggie Steifvater is one of those names in YA that everyone knows and has read, kind of like Michelle Hodkin with the Mara Dyer series (my heart). I’ve known about her for ages, but I’ve never read any of her books, mostly because fantasy novels tend to fall to the bottom of my to-read pile. I consistently gravitate toward contemporary real-life novels and I’m not sure why. That mystery is especially unsolvable when I read a good fantasy novel and cannot deal for the rest of the month because I’m still reeling (think: Graceling series, I am still not okay). So, Steifvater’s books always drifted out of my focus. But when I was at a bookstore last week, I saw it and thought I might as well give it a try.

I AM SUCH A FOOL. The Scorpio Races is unreal; it is so excellent that I am physically kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.

First off, I want to talk about the setting. It’s a fantasy novel, and Steifvater said in her Printz Honor acceptance speech that with The Scorpio Races, she wanted it to be a “book about a world.” However, creating an entire Game-of-Thrones-esque world, complete with languages, currencies, maps, etc. is daunting so the actual story can often get lost in the noise. She chose to create a world seemingly within our actual world, with an America as we know it, but also with magic. And she makes it real—visceral to the point of feeling tangible—by using distinct, yet minute, details. Details about the smells of Thisby (the name of the island where this is set), the sounds of the ocean, and the tactility of the horses and the capaill uisce, the mythical water horses that race in the Scorpio Races. There’s also a motif of traditional Thisby foods interwoven into the novel, which a palpable dimension to the world and seamlessly rounds it out. It feels real because it is real because she made it real. Yaaaasss. 

Next up, the ridiculously acute characterization of Puck Connolly. This is easily my favorite aspect of The Scorpio Races. I’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s the inclination of some authors to tell instead of show when it comes to character development. Authors will say something dumb like, “Jane preferred to spend her Saturday nights at home because she was a homebody.” It’s like, yes we gathered that she was a homebody based on the fact that she is at home, you don’t need to spell it out for us. Don’t dumb it down for your peeps, authors! That’s boring and we don’t need it! Steifvater does a killer job at showing her characters and letting their actions and offhand thoughts do the telling. All of Puck’s characterization happens in moments of internal thought and instinctive action. Here are my favorite examples:

“I’d always thought I was above being fascinated by anyone but myself.”

“I always liked the idea of being such a bother that I affected even the weather.”

“I am opposed to people touching me when I’m not expecting it.”

“Mum said that I shouldn’t be moved to do anything by someone with sweet words … but Tommy Falk doesn’t seem to be trying to persuade me of anything, so I let his compliment slip down nice and easy. It’s quite agreeable  and I’d be happy enough with another.”

That’s just a few sentences and I know you already have a good sense of who she is and what she stands for. Isn’t that so good? That’s how Steifvater develops all of the main characters in this book, and it’s absolutely riveting.

The last thing I want to talk about is the love story. From the first time Puck and Sean Kendrick meet, you know—and, more importantly, they seem to know—that they are going to be together and that’s what’s so startling. The suspense isn’t in the mystery, it’s in their individual personal journeys. For Puck, that means saving her childhood home. For Sean, that means buying his freedom, in a sense. Their relationship is a compulsory side effect. By shifting the readers focus away from wondering if they will ever get together and toward the races and their growing loyalty to each other, Steifvater makes her story more enticing and reflective of what growing close to someone really looks like . Seeing the priorities of two rather stubborn and passionate characters shift is intense and inspiring and yo, I’m not embarrassed to say I cried about it.

If you couldn’t tell, I love this book so so much.

And I’ll end it with this quote:

“The evening sun loves her throat and her cheekbones.”

UGH. That personification though! You guys feel? Tell me about it.

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