Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Scorpio Races

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They came in with the tide. The moon illuminated long lines of froth as the waves gathered and gathered and gathered offshore, and when they finally broke on the sand, the capaill uisce tumbled onto the shore with them. The horses pulled their heads up with effort, trying to break free from the salt water.

I had to restrain the squealing, fangirly Maja and shove her in the closet so that the adult, critical Maja can sit and write this review. Believe me, it’s better this way.

With The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater has finally earned my complete trust. I promise never to doubt her again. I’ve read four of her books so far and I gave all four of them five stars. If there was ever an author who deserved my wholehearted support, it’s her. She is an artist above all else, and if that alone isn’t enough, here’s another reason for my respect:

Other writers might have different priorities, but for me, the chief goal of my novels is not plot or premise or pacing, but to evoke a certain feeling. I will sacrifice most anything in order to change someone's mood in a certain way. I can't do that without careful navigation of metaphor and character development.
(From Ms. Stiefvater’s blog post)

But I’ll limit my praise to The Scorpio Races for now:

This time, Stiefvater flirted a little more seriously with the fantasy genre and created an amazingly gripping story.
People on the fictional island Thisby live and breathe for one thing and one thing alone: wild and bloodthirsty water horses, the capaill uisce. They are either directly involved in the races or they take care of tourists from the mainland. Even though the Scorpio Races are held only once a year, the heartbreak and the loss they inevitably bring are almost too big for one small island. People die in the races. They die because they are too slow, too vulnerable or too ready to trust the monsters they are riding on. The capaill uisce may be stunningly beautiful, but all you have to do is turn your back on them for one short second, and their teeth will already be deep inside your flesh.
It takes everything in me not to whimper. The creature is black as peat at midnight, and its lips are pulled back into a fearsome grin. The ears are long and wickedly pointed toward each other, less like a horse and more like a demon. They remind me of shark egg pouches. The nostrils are long and thin to keep the sea out. Eyes black and slick: a fish’s eyes.
It still stinks like the ocean. Like low tide and things caught on rock. It’s barely a horse.
It’s hungry.

Kate “Puck” Connoly and her two brothers lost their parents when a bloodthirsty capall uisce attacked them on the sea. Ever since, the three of them survive by fixing things for other people, making teapots, helping in the local store and doing anything at all to put some butter and flour in their mostly empty pantry. But when the oldest brother, Gabe, the only one with a steady job, decides to leave the island, and Benjamin Malvern threatens to take their house away, Puck sees no other choice but to join the dangerous race in order to save her house, and maybe even prevent her brother from leaving.

Sean Kendrick lost his mother to the mainland and his father in the race. Enormous talent and love for the capaill uisce made it possible for him to survive on the island, working for Benjamin Malvern and his obnoxious son Mutt. Sean has won the races four out of six times. He has everyone’s respect and a decent amount of money saved. The only thing stopping him from leaving the Malverns is Corr, the capall uisce that is Sean’s only family. This year more than ever Sean has to win the races because if he wins, Benjamin Malvern will finally sell him Corr, thus setting them both free.

Make no mistake: even though this story is told from two alternating POVs and it seemingly focuses on Sean and Puck, it’s really a story about the water horses. They are what matters, Sean and Puck are just tour guides. If you’re looking for romance, you could end up disappointed. It is present, but the emphasis is on other things this time. The writing is atmospheric and it feels like a thick mist, albeit one you're in no hurry to get out of. The island itself is a character: people, mentality and everyday struggles they face. The rich American buyer, George Holly, is there to remind us exactly how different the island people are.

Please follow the link above to find out more about Stiefvater's writing priorities. She is one amazing lady and she just keeps proving her worth over and over again with every new word she writes.

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