Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sara's Library: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic 2012
Printz Honor Book 2012
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature Nominee 2012

On the island of Thisby, every November flesh-eating water horses compete in the Scorpio Races, an ancient ritual that has evolved into a tourist attraction and one of the island's only sources of profit.  Puck (a.k.a. Kate) lost her parents to the water horses, but when her older brother Gabriel announces that he's leaving for the mainland, Puck decides she must enter the race (and win) in order to save the family home from being repossessed.  While already facing the inherent struggles of racing carnivorous beasts on the back of her beloved horse, she also must face the bullying of the sexist townspeople, who believe a girl shouldn't be racing.

And then there's the mysterious Sean Kendrick.  Abandoned by his mother as a small child and orphaned when his father was killed by a water horse, Sean has made his living working at one of the island's stables, capturing and training the water horses, and has won four Scorpio Races already.  While he must win this year's race to buy his favorite water horse from the stable owner, when he meets Puck, he becomes determined to help her win, as well.

I had really enjoyed Ms. Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, although I do feel it would have been better as a stand-alone novel (some of the events in the later books are just too far-fetched!).  So I was very much looking forward to reading this, especially after it won the Printz Honor.  But...I was rather disappointed, to be honest.  The book was good, but it was not the amazing experience that I was expecting.

As with the Mercy Falls books, the POV shifts between Puck and Sean in alternating chapters.  However, unlike those books, the two protagonists read very much the same, aside from the occasional bit of sarcasm on Puck's end.  Were it not for the character names emblazoned above each chapter, I probably would not have known from whose perspective I was experiencing things 80% of the time, save from contextual clues, such as interactions with other characters (i.e. Puck's brothers, the stable owner, etc.).  It seemed like a step backward for Ms. Stiefvater and I was quite surprised.

For me, at least, this book was a bit of a slog.  I appreciated the world-building, especially the mythology behind the races, the parade, and the initiation of the riders, but it felt like the pacing was off.  When something is called The Scorpio Races and said races take place in the last twenty pages, there is a problem.  I understand that the book was very much about the people involved in the races, and the tourism, and the horses, but that was more than 3/4 of the book.  I don't think I'm alone in having expected an exhilarating race, and what I received was underwhelming at best.

There's no question that Ms. Stiefvater is a talented author, but I don't feel this was her best effort.  I still need to read The Raven Boys, but I am hoping the issues present here have been fixed and I can go back to loving her work.

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