This book slayed me. It cut my heart out of my chest and left me breathless. What an absolutely beautiful story about love and sacrifice and the things that bind us together. Summary from the inside jacket:
It happens at the star 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. Others die.
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.
I did not know what to expect from this book. I have not read any of Maggie’s SHIVER series, but the always lovely Sarah Goldberg gushed to me about THE SCORPIO RACES and I knew I wanted to read it. I am so glad I did. I’ve loved a lot of books in my life, but there’s only a select few that have truly floored me and left me saying, “What I wouldn’t give to write like that.” Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is one of them. This book is another.
There is no denying that Maggie’s writing is beautiful, but its power lies in something much deeper than the word-smithing alone. It’s the tone, the mood, the atmosphere that seeps off the page and blankets you. There was something so magical about this book and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to put it in words.
The island of Thisby is a rich and realized place. I felt like it was my home by the time I finished reading. The cliffs, the salt on the air, the smell of fish mingled with hay from the horses. Puck’s* home, Sean’s small space at Malvern Yard, the town of Skarmouth. Maggie brings these all to life so effortlessly.
The dual POVs were also well-executed. Both sides of the narration were necessary to understand the stakes for the characters, but I had a soft spot for Sean. I think the book weighed a little more heavily on Puck’s voice (simply in the number of pages that came from her), but I adore how this novel started with Sean and ended with Sean. Truthfully, I think this is his story, with Puck being an integral part of it. For me, this was a book about a boy in love with his horse, a boy who has no room in his heart for anything but, who feels traps and yearns for freedom, but never if it comes without that creature. And along the way he finds he does have room for more in his heart, and better yet, that he needs it. That even when his horse makes him who he is, he is not so full that he must turn everyone away.
I will admit that the pace was a little slow. I’m guessing ~100 pages could easily have been cut from the book to keep the plot moving, but then I wonder if the mood and tone that was so spot on would have been lost. It’s the slow and steady build leading up to the races, the taxed or tenuous exchanges between characters in their day to day lives, that makes this book so powerful. We wouldn’t have the same understanding of Sean and Puck’s relationship – the way they grow together, the reasons for which they rely on the other – had the quiet moments between them been cut or sped up. I’m also not sure the bond between horse and rider would have been as obvious without the quieter details of this book (the mornings training along the sea, the color of a coat, the smell of hay, the pull and tug of the reins).
Example: We know Sean loves Corr, his water horse, from the moment we meet the two of them, but by the end of the book we feel it. We know to lose the horse would be like him losing a piece of himself and that feels so real it is almost as though we, the reader, could lose something alongside him. I want to say so many more things on this point, but I will spoil everything if I do. I will just say that Corr and Sean made my heart break. Puck and her horse, Dove, are lovely as well, but the sacrifice and love and undeniable connection shared between Sean and his steed makes me consider if the saying “man’s best friend” should be extended beyond dogs and into the realm of horses.
I don’t think I can talk coherently about this book any longer – anything else I say is just going to cross into a gushing, fan-girlish mess – so I will just add that this was one of my favorite reads of 2011. Hands down. It is so unlike anything else I’ve read this year, and it made me cry, which is really saying something.** This book had me in tears. Big, shameless, happy-bittersweet-heartbreaking tears. I. Love. This. Book.
I love it so much that I want to give away a copy. If you don’t own this book yet, here’s a fabulous chance to snag it. Use this handy form to enter:
This book was reviewed as a part of Tracey Neithercott’s Fall Book Club, so if you’re stopping by because you clicked through from her site, do let me know: What did you think of THE SCORPIO RACES? Did you swoon as much as I did?
* Does anyone know where the name Puck came from? Or who gave it to her? Maybe I missed it as I raced to devour this tale. Either way, I never really warmed up to the nickname. In my head, she was always Kate Connolly.
** I bawl all the time at movies, but for some reason, it’s harder for a book to bring me to tears. Maybe because I can pause, put the book down for a moment, and gain control of myself.