"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."
Even though this is a book about killer water horses, there is nothing fantastical about it. The plot reads very realistically. I caught myself several times thinking Stiefvater's Thisby was a real place. She paints the landscape and the characters, main and supporting, so convincingly, and as always, her writing style is very lyrical, which in this novel, evokes the wind-swept island cliffs and the powerful muscles of a galloping horse beneath you so clearly that I half believed I was there myself. I don't claim to be very outdoorsy, but I did grow up on and move back to a farm, and when I go out on the back deck in the morning and look out over the field, the land I grew up on, to the woodline and see the early morning streaked sky, I think this is home, and Puck's love of Thisby really resonated with me.
I also really appreciated the slow-growing romance of Sean and Puck. Unlike the deeply passionate relationship of Grace and Sam in The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, Sean and Puck's relationship seems to spring up naturally between them, growing out of their mutual love for the land and horses. Everything about Sean is so deliberate, and yet, when he speaks to Puck or touches her, every word, every action is infused with longing. It is a beautifully restrained relationship, culminating in an anticlimactic kiss, which is perfectly orchestrated against the backdrop of the November ocean so that the couple becomes part of the landscape that they love so much.
But this book isn't really a romance. This book is about courage and survival and independence. It's about how hard it is to achieve those things and be respected, especially when you are a woman, and how you have to fight like hell to keep the things you love. And although it's not a romance in the strictest of senses, it is a book about love. Love for your family, for your friends, for the land, and for the horses.
I highly recommend this book. I think Stiefvater is at her best in her stand-alones when she's not concerned with cliffhangers or loose plot lines that can be picked up in another book. The Scorpio Races is a deeply moving, satisfying read. If, like me, you saw "killer water horses" and thought, no way, I urge you to put your preconceptions aside and pick up this wonderful novel that transcends age and genre. You will not be disappointed.
Best matched with fans of family dynamics, natural settings, horse races, and light romance.