Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater


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 if 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.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

With these haunting words laid out like a feast of uncertainty and doom, Maggie Stiefvater launches a new telling of an old tale inspired by elements of Celtic mythology, legends of the water horses, and her own imagination.

And nothing had ever been more beautiful, or fearsome, or bizarre.

So, what’s this book about?

Each October, dread settles over the island of Thisby, as The Scorpio sea throws capaill uisce—commonly known as water horses—onto its shore, and a hint of fear mingles with the ocean breeze as the dreamlike unreality of such delectable creatures warries with the gruesome truth of their deadly nature. Every first of November—a date bound to loom large in the landscape of the islanders’ mind—the Scorpio Races are held, and young men compete in a beachfront race to the death astride the capaill uisce, with such longing in them, all bound up in hesitancy, as though they yearned for connection, but the mounts didn’t reciprocate their desires.

Sean Kendrick has carved his life out of the land of sea and sand and fatal, beautiful horses. Four-years running champion of The Scorpio Races, he is locally reputed as the best capaill uisce trainer, but he remains bound to the wealthy Malverns for whom he works as a stable hand. Of all the things Sean Kendrick has conjured in years of yearning for an independent life, buying the right to his water-horse stallion, Corr, was a thing he only folded inside his heart, until he was assailed anew by the brew of feelings that had churned in him at the terrible clear-eyed certainty that it was now or never.

Katherine “Puck” Donnelly becomes the first woman to ever compete in the Scorpio Races, rolling the dice on her own survival for her family’s sake, which had seemed—after her eldest brother decided to move to the mainland and abandon her alongside her younger brother—to be drifting away from each other like untethered boats in the mercy of the tides. Signing up with her simple land mare, Puck knows that her chances are slim but she was so far down this path that to turn around would be to face a howling, dark tunnel with nothing at its end. And with that realization, Puck feels it take root within her, this purpose, as though speaking it gave it the light it needed to grow.

Puck is a counterpoint to Sean, both of them forged the horrific day they’ve been orphaned by the capaill uisce, both of them saddled with the determination to win the race, both of them creatures riddled with empty spaces that swelled and hurt with the same species of hope: fragile and sullied by fear and uncertainty. But there could be only one winner. So is it  possible that all their jagged edges might fit together like puzzle pieces, or would they look to each other for the faith they kept between them, and begin to find only doom instead?

While the world that Stiefvater builds here is thinly sketched, formed only roughly with a few shadows here and there, like wisps of smoke, it’s tantalizing rather than incomplete, and it’s more than enough to leave the vibrant suggestion of magic. The Scorpio Races, ultimately, is a set of brilliant moments woven together with a sure hand, and structured around a simple plot that illuminates, with rich prose and richer structure, a set of very real, very damaged, very hopeful characters learning the courage it takes to reveal their authentic selves to each other and to the world.

This is the kind of story that circles around you three times before drawing you in to an oddly poetic tale of magic and desire, passion and longing. It’s so easy to let your mind relax into the fantasy of it, and let the familiarity of Stiefvater’s storytelling and characterization wear away all the sharp, startling edges of a novel world.

I love Sean and Puck so much I wish I could put them in a giant envelope and mail them away from all the bad guys.

From the beginning, they feel like characters you’ve known for years. It’s not that they’re tropes—far from it—but Stiefvater is just so deft at crafting characters that feel fully fleshed-out and more real than reflections in a mirror. There was so much in them, a lifetime’s worth of feeling and yearning—many lifetimes’ worth—concentrated into a single moment at the end, and it made reading this book feel like being locked out of a room while someone you love is trapped inside with unknowable terrors. I love how Puck fought with impressive assertiveness everyone who belittled her for imagining she could possibly have had the bad taste to compete in a sport “designated for men”, and how Sean fought for his right to claim Corr with every scrap of will and had none left over for meekness.

But as much as I love them individually, collectively they just…set ablaze the entire story. There is so much else going on in their lives—hellish, heavenly and in-between—but together, they have a way of being untouchable, of being above, peering down at the rest of the islanders from some lofty place they made from their ragged hearts and every moment of peace they stole from the jaws of chaos. I love how they were both rooting out darkness in each other: desire and faith they’d never imagined themselves capable of, and how the stone foundation of their romance was a deep love found in companionship and mutual respect. It wasn’t something they eagerly sought, it just came to them naturally, when it was time, and it was just so [clutches chest] so beautiful.

I don’t how else to say “I love this book so much” and make you eager to read it, but I’ll say this: if I could just steal a moment from this story—the breeze scented with the last dying gasp of winter and tracing across closed eyelids, the ground soft and sandy, the ocean rocking against the shore, the freedom and these moments of being “so, so alive” on a horse’s back ripping through the wind—and exist in it forever, I would be so content.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

  1. I actually have a signed copy of this! And it’s the only Stiefvater book I have way to read 🙈 I always start it and then get kinda bored within the first couple chapters.. I really need to push myself though because I know I’ll love it if I just sat down and read it! Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. oh my god that was me!! I started it once and just wasn’t in the mood I guess?? but once I pushed through it was so worth it!! thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. THEYRE SO WHOLESOME I LOVE THEM SO MUCH OH MY GOD all they do is stay in their lane and take care of their horses like?? actual angels

      Liked by 1 person

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