Named a Notable Children’s Book of 2011 by the New York Times, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a Young Adult fantasy masterpiece. While her “Shiver” werewolf romances were number one New York Times bestsellers, The Scorpio Races trumps her past work unquestionably. Emerging from a genre cluttered with paranormal romances and post-apocolyptic or dystopian thrillers, The Scorpio Races diverges from tired clichés and tells a beautifully crafted story of courage and valor, based on the Irish and Scottish myths of a creature called the water horse or capaill uisce.
Set on the isolated island of Thisby, every year the islanders race these deadly animals along the beach of the Scorpio Sea, battling against mounts who are both hungry to eat their riders and return to depths of the sea. And every year, many are wounded or brutally killed in the process.
Steifvater writes her novel in two alternating first-person perspectives, centering the story around Kate “Puck” Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two orphaned teenagers equally in love with horses and their island, and successfully establishes defined individual tones for each. Puck is attempting to be the first female rider and winner of the Scorpio Race in an effort to keep her eldest brother from leaving the island and to save her family’s house and land from being repossessed. Sean, taciturn and extraordinarily gifted with horses of both mythical and natural origins, is trying to win his fifth race so he can use the victory pot to finally purchase his beloved capaill uisce stallion from the horse merchant for whom he works. Both battle against the tremendous odds of their situations and the normal trials of the race, and the book ends with a conclusion that feels both satisfying and open-ended for a stand-alone novel.
Amongst the book’s strengths is that while the story does have some elements of a romance, the characters’ relationship lacks overblown and unbelievable drama and passion and instead evolves naturally out of deep mutual respect and understanding, something often forgotten and ignored in most modern YA. But perhaps Stiefvater’s greatest achievement is that the novel does not feel like a fantasy. Her excellent use of language, artful descriptions, and engaging dialogue make the characters and the story comes alive in such a way that it leaves you questioning how anyone could ever believe that the island of Thisby and capaill uisce races don’t exist, creating a novel so seemingly realistic that it can also easily be adored by readers who are not typically fantasy fans. In short, The Scorpio Races has the literary merit not frequently found in its genre, and Steifvater’s novel is so much more than the story of a killer horse race.
This fall has been full of young adult fiction gems, making it a both an easy and difficult task to choose holiday gifts for lovers of this genre. How can you narrow it down to just a few selections? But whatever books you settle on, I highly suggest that this novel make the cut. With strong cross-over appeal to adults and a story that demands to be reread countless times, The Scorpio Races is bound to delight anyone this holiday season.
For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.