This books checks off so many boxes for me.
- Reminders of my schoolgirl horse phase
- Strong female teen character that doesn’t go to pieces because she starts to like a boy AND doesn’t give up when thing get hard OR wait for someone to solve her problems
- Strong male teen character that quietly and thoughtfully takes in the world around him without giving in to what he “should be doing”
- Kids forced to take care of each other after parents die (Is that a weird thing to “like”?)
- Folklore magic
- Cape Cod-like island life with crazy stormy weather
- Realistic jerks for bad guys.
In a world of sweeping generalizations, boys go through their firefighter stage and girls go through their horse stage. Somewhere around the third or fourth grade, I destroyed everything written by Marguerite Henry. When I found out Chincoteague and Assateague Island were real places and there were actual ponies that you could go and see, my elementary school mind bent. Pair this with my love of Cape Cod and the ocean and thunderstorms and it was nearly too much for my body to handle. Ponies? Sand dunes? The ocean? Are you kidding me? Was this world built for me and me alone?
Flash forward to me at 36 years old picking up The Scorpio Races. Not only do we have a wild horse race, we have freaking folklore horses. The men of the island will venture into the sea to capture a deadly capaill uisce and see if they are strong enough to control it. You can’t tame a capaill uisce but you can hope your horse sense, knowledge of faerie magic and strength is enough to build trust and prevent you from being torn apart and left to bleed to death in the sand.
Every November the capaill uisce are raced. Sean Kendrick races for the love of his capaill uisce mount, the horse he hopes to some day own. The same horse that killed Sean’s father in the race when Sean was a boy. Puck Connolly is racing to try to keep her family together. Her parents were killed by a capaill uisce years ago, and since then she and her brothers have barely held on to what little they own. She doesn’t care about magic or tradition, but doesn’t mean to insult the history of the race. She doesn’t have much time, and winning the race is her only option. Sean, on the other hand, is expected to win. Even though he’s an outsider on his own island, everyone knows he’s a master when it comes to the capaill uisce. His only dream is to own Corr, the beautiful mount who trusts him. When a stranger comes to the island to watch the races and learn more about the horses, both non-magic mounts and capaill uisce, Sean begins to wonder if he should be asking for more from the island. Puck, simply by being who she is, continues to challenge him as a rider and a young man. Everything is changing for both of them and the race is going to decide the next phase of their lives.
My two favorite parts of this book are the folklore of the capaill uisce and Puck. Folklore is almost always going to be a win for me in any book. And Puck? She is a perfect mix of confidence and terror as she deals with things she shouldn’t even have to think about. She both relies on and is infuriated by her brothers. She misses her parents, especially her mom, while at the same time using what she learned from them to keep it together. She doesn’t change when she meets Sean and refuses to be the kind of girl who would back down to impress someone. She quickly realizes she’s going to have to fight to race since she’s the first female to attempt it, and although she is sometimes reduced to angry tears, she’s not the kind to give up because someone tells her she has to.
The supporting cast was just as wonderful as the two main characters. The balance between Puck and her brothers was great to read because you can see how the death of their parents affected them individually and how they all compliment each other, even when they’re fighting. The two villains are disgusting and easy to hate, even if you understand why they want Puck and Sean to fail. Actually… other than money, I’m not sure what Malvern the elder’s motivation is. Still, it’s good to hate him, especially when he shows moments of almost being human.
The suspense of the ending was perfect. Both of them had to win in order to get what they want and need. I kept wondering how Stiefvater was going to pull it off without making me hate her. Would Puck win? Would Sean? Would they both cross the finish line at the same time? (I would have hated her for that one.) Would one throw the race for the other? Would they both lose? HOW WERE THINGS GOING TO BE RESOLVED???
I’m happy to report that the ending was wonderfully done. It was heartbreaking and beautiful and I sniffled through the last few pages. I was honestly happy for these characters. It’s definitely a group that’s going to continue to live in my head and I wish they were real so I could check in with them every few years to see how they’re doing.