Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Scorpio Races

There is so much to love about this book that I don't know where to start. 

Thisby is a tiny island somewhere off of the coast of Scotland or Ireland or England. This is where the water horses--the capaill uisce*--live. And every October they emerge from the ocean onto Thisby’s shores and they prowl, carnivorous and hungry.

And every November first, the very brave or the very foolish run these savage horses across the beach in a bloody and dangerous race. They are man-eaters. They are magic. Their magic may dim after years spent on land, but every November 1st, the magic of the sea pulls at them as they race on the beach. The depths call to the monsters within them, and these horses would just as soon dismember and eat their riders than carry them safely across the finish line.

Sean Kendrick is the four-time Scorpio Races champion and is something of a water-horse whisperer. He’s a quiet boy, a loner, and he feels most comfortable on the back of Corr, the water-horse that he loves, the horse that he rode to victory in the previous four races. He communes with Corr, with the sea, with the island. And he doesn’t want—or need—anything else, until he meets Kate “Puck” Connolly.

Puck is the first girl ever to ride in the races. And she needs to win just as much as Sean does. But when the day of the race dawns, there are just two questions: Who will win this race? and Who will die racing?

Maggie Stiefvater again creates an entrancing world, a world of beautiful imagery, original characters and lyrical prose. Based on the old Celtic legends about water-horses, Stiefvater creates a mythology all of her own, but rooted in the old stories. I love the pagan magic that the riders employ to try to calm the untamable horses: lines curved in the sand by the toes of boots, spitting on hands to rub against velvety noses, throwing salt, tracing letters with fingers on necks, tying knots in manes. Counterclockwise motions, bells on their ankles. It’s a lovely reference to the pagan history of isles just like Thisby. These islanders are Catholics who remember the superstitions of their pagan ancestors.

When I read, I see images in my head, just like a movie. Sometimes I rewind to reread a paragraph or two to refine the video scrolling through my head. Sometimes I fast-forward and read ahead (it’s horrible, I’m a read-aheader!) because I’m bored or because I can’t stand the suspense. I assume everybody sees pictures in their heads when they read. But reading The Scorpio Races was like having an Oscar-winning movie screening in my mind. The timing, the suspense, the beauty were so vivid that I could practically hear the film score as Sean burst onto the scene, riding bareback on Corr at the very edge of the cliffs, the waves raging below. (It was like Brad Pitt bursting over the hill among the herd of mustangs, cowboy hat, chaps and all in Legends of the Fall. And let me say, I do NOT use this comparison lightly. ;) )

The characters frequently refer to each other by both first and last names. Is this a cultural thing? I think it might be. But I love it. Somehow, it adds weight and meaning to their interactions. Like this:

I say, “I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.”
Now he looks at me. He says, very softly, “It’s late for that, Puck.”

And this:

My mouth quirks. “It looks like you won, Kate Connolly.”

Why do I love this so much? I don’t know, but it thrills me. I kept rereading these passages and saying the words out loud. It’s wonderful to roll these Celtic names off of your tongue. I imagine Sean loves the sound of his name on Puck's lips. And I think Puck loves how it feels to say Sean Kendrick and feel a possessiveness in the saying of it. He probably notices the way her lips close and open over the words, how her tongue hits her teeth. Maybe they use first and last names to give the names the proper respect. Maybe they use both names to draw a name out, to savor the sound... and the newness, the mystery, the wonder of a new friendship. 

I always relish the moments in stories when one lover first sees the other. Not meet. But sees. Maybe it's because I have such a vivid image in my mind of the first time I saw my husband. It's burned on my brain and I hope it always stays there. I walked through the cafeteria at college, holding my tray, toward the table my friends had already claimed. And then I saw him. Sitting with a bunch of guys, wearing his glasses and a navy blue jacket and he was laughing. Like, really laughing. I don't think I stopped there in the middle of the aisle, but it felt like I did. Because I just stared. I couldn't see his adorable freckles or his lopsided grin or his gorgeous blue eyes from that distance, but I remember thinking to myself, "That is the most beautiful boy I've ever seen." 

So I love the moments in books and movies before the characters meet. When one character feels like time has frozen---did I really stop and stare, holding my tray?--but time ticks on. This is just the beginning. It's like the take-your-breath-away moment when Scarlett's eyes first lift to find Rhett staring at her. And The Scorpio Races has another delicious one:

I look back at the boy at the counter. He turns then, so he's in profile, and suddenly, I think I know him from on the beach: the rider on the red stallion. Something about his expression and his wind-torn hair makes my heart go thump thump stop.

"Puck Connolly," says the old man. "Don't be looking at him like that... He rides every year and I reckon he's the one to beat. Always is. But he's got one foot on the land and one foot in the sea. You steer clear of him."
And if Puck needed any encouragement, these words, "Don't be looking at him like that" are all it would take. 

Grade: 4.5/5 stars. Enchanting and lyrical and beautiful.

So Maggie, when are you going to write adult fiction? 

(* Pronounced copple ooshka)


Anonymous said...

oh my god, I bow down to this review. Love it. Every last word. Love how you see/connect with things I don't. Makes me thatmuchmore excited to read this.

I'll second...Stievater when are you writing an adult book?!

rachelkiwi said...

haha. thanks. i hope you love this book as much as i did. hurry up, net galley! i just couldn't stop thinking about it.