Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Read Date: 31 October 2011
Goodreads Reading Progress Status Updates: Click here. May contain spoilers.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Review in a nutshell: There will be blood.
I modified this review for submission to GMANetwork.com Lifestyle section. The published article may be accessed here.
Publisher’s Synopsis: 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.
“It’s the first of November, so today, someone will die.”
More like it’s the first of November–the day of The Scorpio Races–so today, someone will post a review.
I’m familiar with Maggie Stiefvater’s work through the first 2 books in her The Wolves of Mercy Falls a.k.a. Shiver trilogy (I haven’t managed to get around to procuring a copy of the last book; maybe soon.) And while I was surprised that I found Shiver and Linger to be easy and entertaining reads despite not being into werewolf stories, I didn’t see anything particularly special to set them apart from the multitude of supernatural YA novels out in the market, except perhaps for the colored typesetting and Stiefvater’s evocative writing.
The Scorpio Races, though, is something different.
Stiefvater probably believes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (read: “If Shiver became a #1 New York Times Bestselling series, then I must have done something right”), so we see the return of the infamous First Person Character Points of View (POV) in this book. I had issues with this in Shiver, and especially in Linger. (4 POV characters! Beat that with a 7-hero POV, Rick Riordan!) The voices weren’t distinct enough, and it was uncomfortable being inside the heads of characters that are too emo.
This narrative device works well in The Scorpio Races. Sean Kendrick and Kate Connolly (I can’t bring myself to call her Puck) have every right to be Drama King and Queen considering what their lives are like, but they aren’t. This makes being inside their heads less suffocating than the Shiver experience.
Stiefvater and her editor also seem more conscious of the narrative, so the voices are less prone to omniscience and are more distinct. I never once had to go back to the beginning of a chapter to verify who’s talking.
On the downside, there’s a lot of stream-of-consciousness filler in the narrative. These sections do nothing to move the plot or the characters forward. They do solidify the characterizations a bit more and tangentially contribute to the world building, but leaving them out would’ve made for a tighter story.
If there’s one thing that pleasantly surprised me about this book, it’s that it’s, first and foremost, not a love story. I was inclined to think that it was after reading Shiver, I suppose. My mistake. ;p More than anything, it’s about courage and survival, with the titular Races as a bloody backdrop.
The love story is still there, of course, but it’s a flame that burns slowly just under the surface for most of the book. I will admit to being a sucker for all those sweeping, epic romances, but I like how Stiefvater wrote this one–at once both deliberate and spontaneous, definitely not sappy but no less sweeter than the November cakes that Kate loves so much. It feels very organic to the story, and true to the characters and their circumstances.
I love the world that Stiefvater built for The Scorpio Races. Her prose paints a vivid picture of the stark beauty of the island, and the blood and violence of the Races. Thisby feels as mythical as the capaill uisce (water horses) that make their way to its shores, yet the gritty reality of life on it is somehow familiar.
The inhabitants–who, I kid you not, tend to call each other by their full names–make a decent living during Race season, when the tourists flock to the island. There are those who love Thisby enough to continue living there no matter what happens, but there are those whose spirits break beneath the strains of hardship and the permanent danger of being mauled to death by a capall uisce, that they decide to leave for what they believe is a better life in the Mainland.
I suspect this aspect of the story resonates with me because I see it happening time and again here in the Philippines: on a similar scale, in tourist hotspots where people try to bend nature to their will even to the point of their mutual destruction; in the provinces, where life can be hard enough that people succumb to the lure of the dazzling but misleading lights of the capital; and on a larger scale, when people migrate to or leave to work in other countries. And for this reason, Filipino readers will likely empathize with Kate, who joins the Races to try to persuade her older brother not to leave. Her struggles are familiar, her courage and perseverance admirable.
I find Sean to be a little more distant as a character compared to Kate, but only because his struggles are more of the internal kind. His personality is defined by his reputation in the Races and his life with the capaill uisce and thoroughbred horses, all of which, are alien to me. This isn’t to say he’s entirely unreachable, though, as his bid to buy off the capall that he’s been racing for years from his wealthy employer is once again familiar, albeit in a different context of Philippine society.
Perhaps I may have gone and read too much into a YA novel. But, as Brandon Sanderson said, a story “means what you want it to mean. The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” And there’s more to The Scorpio Races than just a boy and a girl and the deadly contest that they have to survive and win.
p.s. The Scorpio Races: The Movie!
Warner Bros. acquired the rights to adapt the book for the big screen. It’s going to be a challenge, trying to effectively “externalize” the text, but I’m excited to see the world and the Race and the horses on-screen. Of course, I might end up not being happy with what I see, eventually, but… yeah.
- Background information on The Scorpio Races – includes reviews, the book trailer, and trailer soundtrack download
- Sam and Grace versus The Seasons – My thoughts on Shiver and Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
My copy of the book was provided by Scholastic for review purposes. (Thanks, Scholastic!)