Thursday, 29 December 2011

103. "The Scorpio Races" by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic
Page count: 482 pages
Date begun: December 12th, 2011
Date finished: December 15th, 2011

On the small island of Thisby, off the coast of either Ireland or Scotland (it's never specified), men compete in the deadly Scorpio Races every November, riding the vicious and blood-thirsty capaill uisce, the water horses.

Sean Kendrick lost his father to the races, but has worked with horses since he was ten. No one has better control over horses, normal or from the sea, and he has won the races four years in a row, on Corr, his red water stallion. Sean doesn't require metal, charms or bells to control his horse, he loves the horse, but knows that if he's not careful, the call from the ocean could tempt the stallion to turn on him to return to the sea. Yet despite the close bond, Sean doesn't own Corr, he works for the largest horse breeder on the island, and saves up a little more money each year, hoping for independence. He makes a bargain, that if if wins the race this year, he'll finally get to buy his beloved horse.

Kate "Puck" Connelly is an orphan. She lives with her two brothers, trying to make ends meet in their tiny cottage after water horses killed their parents in a boat accident the year before. Puck loves to ride her sturdy little island pony, Dove, but fears the capaill uisce, knowing the devastation they can cause. When her eldest brother announces that he is leaving Thisby, because there's not enough for him left on the island, Puck announces that she will ride in this year's race, hoping that the prize money will pay off the debts they have on the cottage, and her brother will stay. But women have never competed in the Scorpio Races before, and every year, a large part of the contestants die.

The book has alternating points of view, from both Puck and Sean. Hence the reader gets to know both of them, their hopes and fears and what drives them. Both have to win the race at pretty much any cost, and both are fully aware of the dangers of racing. Puck's in additional danger because she's the first woman to compete, not news well received by the traditional men on the island. She also insists on riding her pony, when all the other riders will be on deadly water horses.Sean has a dangerous rival in his employer's bastard son, Mutt, who believes that his father cares more for Sean, and is jealous of his previous victories in the races. Mutt constantly tries to humiliate and endanger Sean, and this year he's determined to get control over Corr, possibly over Sean's dead body.

I absolutely adore Lament, and am also very fond of Ballad, both by Stiefvater, yet this book didn't really engage me, despite the desperate situations of both Puck and Sean. The plot dragged a bit, and the book takes a good while to really get started, and while I see why so much of the descriptions of the life on the island and the slow buildup to the race was included, but I just didn't care all that much. The concept of the vicious, flesh-eating water horses was very cool, though.

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