You know, I am not all that much of a joiner. When a book gets a lot of buzz, I tend to not read or review it, because... there are thirty-million-and-five other people doing an admirable, professional job, and there's no point in joining my voice with the chorus. This isn't to say that I don't often like a book others have buzzed about -- it's just that there's no need to give you a carbon copy of a review you might have read elsewhere.
Reader Gut Reaction: ...None of which explains why I am here reviewing this book. Which everyone else has probably already reviewed. But, the thing is... I couldn't not review it. I read it in one, long drink-of-water sitting, at the dinner table, eating one-handed, open on the counter as I loaded the dishwasher, and in one long push before bed. And I turned the last page and went away utterly satisfied.
Some caveats: No, I was not a "horse girl," so the murderous fae equine angle did not do it for me. No, I do not, like myriad other Americans, have a lifelong crush on the Irish and thus have an appropriation-close relationship with their mythology (having lived in Scotland for five years, I'd feel a little weird about that, anyway). And, most of all, no, I have not been a rabid fan of this author's other novels. Understand, I truly enjoyed her first books, but I am not of the werewolf-love-triangle thing; her later books just weren't me. So, I came to this book with caution, but after the first scenes, I was in, with no looking back.
Thisby is a tiny island on the back of beyond. Either you love it, or you go to the mainland to live. Many have left. The capaill uisce come running every November from the wild sea - bloodthirsty, carnivorous killer horse beasties. And every year, they kill sheep, pets -- and people unlucky enough to catch their notice. They love a chase, so you'd better not run. And don't get anywhere near their teeth.
You'd think people would, you know, avoid the uisce, but there's a certain breed of men who don't. They RIDE THEM. They capture and tame them, using prayers, cold iron, small charms -- and then they race them. For fun, for luck, to prove themselves better, stronger, or more stouthearted than their neighbors. There's plenty of money in the pot, a lot of bets cast -- and a lot of blood shed on the sand. No, really: A LOT OF BLOOD SHED. As in, these equine mutants TEAR OUT THROATS. The Scorpio Races are certainly not for the meek, and Thisby's not for everyone. But, some people call it home, and can imagine living no place else on earth.
Concerning Character: This story is told in two voices - one of 19-year-old Sean Kendrick, whose father died riding Corr, a roan uisce in the Scorpio Races, and whose life has since been consumed with them. He is famous for his wins -- four now, in a row -- and known to be businesslike and private, somewhat humorless and cool, on the surface. Within, he is burdened, weary, resentful, and full of hatred for his boss' son, who has so much, and wastes it by being a doofus. All Sean wants is to own one of the horses he rides to the glory of the stable he works for - just one special one. But, the stables own him. He has one shot at getting his uisce-- one more win -- and he can walk away from this hateful job and the hateful boss's son, forever. He needs to win The Scorpio Races.
Kate "Puck" Connolly's brother, Gabe, is going to leave -- only a short time after her parents have died and done the same. She and her shy, backwards younger brother will be all that's left - with nothing in the world, not even a house or car. Puck is afraid of losing what little is left of the shape of her family. She's afraid of being the only one left who cares what becomes of the Connolly's -- the family who has shrunk so far, and is still diminishing. She needs some luck - and though she wants nothing to do with The Scorpio Races, they're a way to keep her brother close for just one more month. The water horses killed her parents. She'll never ride one. But, she's got her old horse, Dove...
Two compelling voices, a compelling settling -- an unexpected friendship. The characters skew just slightly older, making their struggles and their lives - sans parents and scholastic focus - that much more black/white. Their choices are complicated, but in the end, things are simple, and the novel spools out beautifully to the very last page.
Recommended for Fans Of...: Sheesh, I don't know. Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry, and The Hunger Games? It's hard to say with this one. There's a kind of David Almond feel to this. Novels of survival, like Cynthia Voight's Seventeen Against the Dealer or On Fortune's Wheel also come to mind: people up against it, written about elegantly. I don't have a good readalike for this one; suggestions in comments?
Cover Chatter: How do I love these covers? Let me count the ways! Both covers I've seen have a red background with silhouetted or line drawn features. Nothing too detailed - because much of the charm of this story is that most of it takes place in the imagination - in what is not said. The red background is good - because violent? Yes. Nasty beasties. On the UK cover above, you see a fine black horse slightly ruined by a big swirly heart - because apparently the cover designer was a "horse girl." Actually, the heart makes a nice, swirly mane for the creature, so that works. The US cover features a wild-haired girl riding hell-bent for leather down the beach. This cover's lack of hearts is ...helpful. The covers for international readers are compelling as well, with only the Italian one featuring the full YA face thing.
FTC: This was an unsolicited review, based on a library book.
Even if you aren't a joiner, you'll be able to pick up THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater at an independent bookstore near you!