Thursday, April 05, 2012
The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater)
How I just devoured this book. As characters, Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick have their own baggage and sorrows, their own hopes and desires but the story doesn’t choose to dwell on just these things. What it is about is a race, told from the perspective of two people who want to win for two different reasons. Puck joins the Scorpio Races almost on an impulse, a last-ditch attempt to keep her brother Gabe at home before he goes to the mainland. Later she realizes that her family’s future on the island depends on how well she does.
"Boys just aren't very good at being afraid," one character says, and this cuts into Puck's own bravery. She isn't going out there to make a feminist statement. In fact, she's not even doing it to save the house (in the beginning, at least); she's doing it because this is how she thinks she can keep her family together. She's not afraid of the capaill uisce; what she's most afraid of is losing what's left of her family. I like Puck’s fire. She dares to race on her island-bred horse Dove in a race for water horses. She is reckless because she has much to lose. She is brave because she needs to brave for others. "I have my own reasons for riding. [...] Just because I'm a girl doesn't make those reasons any less (p196)," Puck declares, and this made me cheer for her every time. I also like how Ms Stiefvater made sure that Puck had all options available to her, like the chance to run the race on a real water horse. It made the decision to race with Dove a practical, rational one instead of a purely emotional one.
The other protagonist of the story is Sean Kendrick. At nineteen, he’s got an almost otherworldly bond with the capaill uisce, especially the red capall Corr. Sean’s won the Scorpio Races for Malvern Stables four times now but no race has ever been more important than this one. This year he’s got a slim chance to win it all but not without risking it all too. Sean is a perfect foil for Puck’s character. He’s cool and steady, no matter the challenges being leveled at him. His is another story of bravery, one that is quiet and firm, like a cornerstone, something that cannot be shaken. The bond he has with Corr just moves me on so many levels. (Also, Sean is a great romantic lead. He’s the swoonworthy, silent, and brooding guy that most romance novels wish they had but can never perfect.)
Thisby is an imagined place, but I could easily picture it off the coast of Ireland or Wales. I like how this is fantasy world is a given, the magical woven into the mundane without any explanation. No one here is Dorothy bewildered by the loss of Kansas, no one is subjected to a mythological infodump. If anyone dares voice out the strangeness of the Thisby world, it is George Holly, the American horse breeder, but his question is more out of sociological curiosity, not "Why in the world are there things like flesh-eating water horses?" kind of way. I thought Ms Stiefvater showed a lot of skill and restraint when exploring the characters and culture of Thisby, especially in the way the island both revered and feared the water horses. She revealed just enough for the story to retain its mystery. I thought this way brought both Thisby and the capaill uisce to life. Ms Stiefvater carefully shows the readers just what these strange vicious horses mean to Thisby.
I was reluctant to let go of this even after I was done with the last page. I could feel myself still in Thisby, still standing on that shore and not wanting the moment to end. I guess it shows in the way I've gone on and on about this. Shutting up now. In my dreams, there's a capall waiting by the water's edge, daring me to come closer.