Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is all about magic, subtlety, myths and violence. Magic of the stormy autumn seas that throw up the Capaill Uisce, the wild, meat eating water horses, straight out of Celtic myths; magic of the remote little island of Thisby which inexplicably holds some people and lets others go; the magic of the Scorpio Races held in November each year and which are the source of the islands identity; the magic of colours and the magic of love – of both humans and animals. Woven into it all is the magic of Stiefvater’s subtle writing which at times is poetry in prose. Except for the violence, nothing else is in your face. All emotions and feelings are alluded to yet the reader gets a clear picture of each character. And somewhere within it all, it is a book about the strength of the women on the island which is the bed rock of island life.
Thisby is probably an Irish island, but it’s exact location is not specified and it is famous for the Scorpio Races that are run on its main beach. The locals catch the capaill uisce which come ashore during the autumn storms and train them for a period of two weeks in order to race them on the main beach. This is no meant feat since the horses are constantly drawn back to the sea and also drawn to kill.
The book is narrated from the point of view of two teenagers – Kate (Puck) Connolly and Sean Kendrick. The latter is the winner of the last four races, having a knack, partly magical, with the water horses and a special relationship with his winning horse Corr while the former in many ways is representative of the spirit of the island – isolated yet plucky and self reliant. Puck and Sean come up against each other when Puck decides to participate in the race to save her house and prevent her elder brother from leaving Thisby.
It’s amazing how Maggie Stiefvater weaves myths into normal day to day life where they are accepted in a matter of fact way. Hers is not a world on another planet or in another dimension, it is this world but only that some of the stories are real. This is the appeal of her books because who doesn’t want the mundane world to be laced with magic and for the myths to be true. The atmospheric writing manages to draw the reader in despite the deceptively mild pace of the story which meanders through the descriptions of various island inhabitants and their quirks. Ultimately it is the descriptions of the island and its bleakness, offset by the colours of the sea and the horses as well the red of Puck’s hair which stand out vividly. Not to mention Puck herself who is vibrant against the closed and taciturn Sean.
Like Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, The Scorpio Races is a book that slowly gets under your skin and weaves a spell. A story to be savoured.