Why I Read It: I wasn’t planning on getting this book until I finished Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, but the reviews were so good for this that I stuck it on my Christmas list, and ended up getting it (thank you Book Geeks Exchange!). I hate that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it, but thanks to the Mount TBR Challenge, better late than never, right?
The premise: ganked from BN.com: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Shiver and Linger comes a brand new, heart-stopping novel.
Some race to win. Others race to survive.
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.
A 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. Sorry folks, but it’s worth talking about. If you want to avoid spoilers, please skip to “My Rating” and you’ll be fine. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: I’ve not yet read every single novel Stiefvater has written. I need to finish the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, which means reading Forever, and I haven’t read Ballad, the sequel to Lament. So I can’t say the following with 100% accuracy, but at least of what I’ve read, Stiefvater really, really likes alternating first person present POVs. However, I really can’t remember if she utilized that style in Lament or not. It’s been a while since I read it. She does use it in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, and it’s starting to wear on me just a wee bit. Not that I dislike the style, but when you start seeing an author use the style over and over, it can lose its effectiveness.
And let’s talk about that, just for a minute: do we complain when an author uses nothing but third person past for their POVs in every book? No, because it’s standard. Do we complain when an author uses nothing but first person past POV in every book? Sometimes. If it’s in a series, and we get the same POV over and over, it’s to be expected. However, if the author is writing the POV of different characters, but always in first person, then its a testament to the author’s skill whether or not each first person POV sounds like a unique character, or if they all sound like the author. The latter can be an issue (it was for me with one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk, especially in the book Haunted). Hell, for some people, first person in any format is problematic, because they simply don’t like that style.
Now, first person POV present tense adds another layer of uniqueness, but when you have MULTIPLE first person present tense POVs, it screams of a special need for the story. The first book I ever read that did this (that I recall) was Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, and it was effective on a host of levels that were all rooted in the story itself.
But to date, short of creating two sides of the same romantic story, I’m not sure that everything I’ve read by Stiefvater warrants it. I’m really hoping that her next project utilizes something else, because I’d like to see the author stretch her muscles a bit, metaphorically speaking. Because she’s more than capable, and I don’t want to see her get into a rut.
Because like I said above: when an author always utilizes the first person for every POV they write in (in different books or several in the same book, it doesn’t matter), you start losing the character’s distinctive voice, and the characters all start sounding the same (which usually, but not always, means they all sound like the author). And there were times that despite clear indicators (chapter headings), I started reading and had to shake myself, because I was in the wrong POV.
Mind you, this is a nitpick. It’s not an issue everyone’s going to have, and it’s really not an issue for me so much as it’s an observation.
Moving on, I really, really, really enjoyed this story. It took a while for me to get into it, because despite the rather fantastic element of the capall uisce, it was a very straight forward, mundane story. I mean that in a good way, for the record. I don’t mean for that to sound like a backhanded compliment. But until the tensions really rose, which was when both Sean and Puck needed desperately to win the race, it was rather easy to root for both of them without pitting them against each other. But once it was made clear that a lot was riding on winning the race (Sean to buy Corr; Puck to save her home), it was hard to root for one character without feeling bad and guilty about it, because frankly, I wanted both to win.
There were also several times, especially in the first half, when I felt I knew exactly where this book was going. I already had the argument in my head that this novel was predictable, but after my first prediction (Mutt rides the piebald mare!), I ended up being proven wrong at every turn, and that was a sheer delight. Nothing happened that I expected, and between that and the quiet tension leading up to the race itself, I was glued to the pages.
Both characters were different (despite my sometimes not being firmly into a POV when a new section started): Sean Kendrick was the quiet beta hero, who knows what he wants but won’t speak up for it until pushed to his limit. His growth for the book is learning how to relate to people other than simply horses or capall uisce, which we see most obviously with Puck, whom he falls in love with, and with George Holly from the mainland. Puck is quite forward and direct, and is constantly second-guessing her own “meanness” but doing what she has to because frankly, she’s the only one who’s going to do it. Puck’s family situation was interesting: there’s a younger brother who seems to have some kind of magical gift (there’s also references to fairy with him), but it’s never explored as fully as I would’ve liked. Same with the older brother, whose announcement that he was going to mainland is what prompted Puck to enter the races to begin with. The trouble with that particular development was that we never really get a satisfying resolution to Gabe’s desire, only that he can’t take the island anymore. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he knew what he was leaving his sister and brother to, so why didn’t he try to take them with him? It would’ve been different if he’d offered and neither wanted to leave and then the story unfolded, but Gabe felt very selfish to me as a reader. Perhaps that’s because I only experienced him through Puck’s eyes, and of course, Puck only saw one side of the story.
Setting-wise, the island was compelling, more-so once I realized this was set in modern times with modern conveniences. The island had a mishmash though, so it gave the book a kind of timeless quality to it, because things had been done a certain way for years and years on this island, and despite being a tourist attraction, I got the impression it was a very poor place, so the mix of modern conveniences and not-so-modern ones made a lot of sense. I did wonder where the island was supposed to be located, especially since it’s mentioned that America is so far away. A map might’ve been fun, but it wasn’t at all necessary. No, instead just a comment about what the Mainland WAS would’ve sufficed (though it may have been said and I just missed it; if so, my bad).
The growing relationship between Puck and Sean Kendrick was very rewarding. This was no love/lust-at-first sight kind of thing. The two characters really got to know each other and each others’ passions, so when they finally fell in love, it felt more organic, you know? I loved their interactions as they realize they’re falling for each other. On page 337:
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 while this isn’t really sentimental, I love the way Puck presents her and Sean Kendrick’s relationship on page 400:
Malvern looks into his tea. “You two are a strange pair. You are a pair, aren’t you?”
“We’re in training.”
But the dialogue nor the narrative is fully of lovey-dovey sweetness. Puck has plenty of bite, and page 371 was one of my favorite moments:
I hear laughter and someone asks if I need help, not in a nice way. I snarl, “What I need is for your mother to have thought a little harder nine months before your birthday.”
Or page 397:
My mother always told me that you should wear your best clothing when you are angry, because it would scare people. I’m not angry, but I’m in the mood to be terrifying, so I take great care in the morning after the races.
That quiet tension I mentioned earlier? The moment RIGHT BEFORE the race starts is the best. I love how Stiefvater builds up to that moment, because once the race starts, everything changes. It’s wonderful.
Also wonderful is the very, very last page. I’ll say nothing, but it’s wonderful.
My Rating: 8 – Excellent
This book is something of a slow build, but by time Stiefvater raises the stakes for both her point of view characters, I was hooked by the slow and quiet tension of the story. The world-building was compelling, and I loved how the two characters, who by all rights were competitors, became friends and tried to help each other out, despite the fact that only one of them could win the race, and both of them badly, desperately needed that win. What I thought would be a predictable novel ended up surprising me at almost every turn, and the story ends right where it needs to. There were some tiny, loose threads that I wish had been tied up a bit better (the world felt almost too big for the story being told, and I only say that because that’s where those loose strings are), and after reading The Wolves of Mercy Falls books, I’m getting more and more immune to Stiefvater’s preferred storytelling method of alternating first person present. Still, I reached a point where I had difficulty putting it down, and it’s a fast, engaging read besides. So glad I was able to get my hands on this, and I have to say, Stiefvater is starting to become a must-read author for me. She’s not there yet, but with this, I won’t ignore future releases, that’s for sure.
Cover Commentary: It’s very plain, very simple, but I like how it could catch the eye of either boys or girls. I will say that I prefer the UK cover (here), though the heart in the center of THAT one kind of ruins the overall effect of luring in the boys AND the girls. Anyway, it’s not a cover that would stop me in my tracks, but I find it very effective.