The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races was written by Maggie Stiefvater and first published in 2011. It is a stand-alone fantasy story which focuses on two teenagers as they prepare to take part in a dangerous race. Since release, the novel has received critical acclaim and been shortlisted for a number of awards. It was also featured on Blue Hen Summer Reading List alongside the likes of The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Daughter of Smoke of Bone, which is how I came to discover it.

The Scorpio Races come at the beginning of every November, attracting many tourists to the Island of Thisby. All that the riders have to do is race from one end of the beach to the other. The problem is that they’re not mounted on ordinary horses. The ride on the capaill uisce – flesh-eating water horses. Their steeds can never be fully trusted and so every year many riders are thrown and devoured.

Sean Kendrick is the returning champion with four victories under his belt. He is a strange young man who keeps himself distant from the other townsfolk. His only love is for Corr, the red capall uisce that he rides. Yet Corr does not belong to him. He is owned by Benjamin Malvern, a local horse breeder, and Sean would do anything to buy the stallion from him.

Puck Connolly is entering the races for different reasons. Her home is about to be reposed and she desperately needs the winnings to buy it back. Yet the capaill uisce killed her parents and so she chooses to do so riding an ordinary horse. This puts her at a huge disadvantage made worse by her gender. As the first and only girl to enter the races, she is met with hostility from the men of the village.

Sean and Puck get off to a rocky start but gradually grow to respect one another. The trouble is that the race day grows ever closer and only one of them can be a winner…

I have to admit that this novel surprised me a lot. Based on the title and the blurb, I was expecting an action-packed and potentially gruesome read. While there are elements of this within the tale, it quickly became apparent to me that this isn’t actually a story about the races. In fact, the Scorpio Race itself only takes up about 14 pages of a 410 page novel. I’ve read a few criticisms of this story on Goodreads that complain about this fact but I would argue that these readers have misunderstood the point of the novel. To say that The Scorpio Races is a novel about a horse race is to ignore all of the complexity of the story. It’s a bit like saying that Moby Dick is a story about a whale.

To me The Scorpio Races should be read as a snapshot. While it does build towards the races it takes a rambling route, allowing the reader to fully appreciate what life is like on Thisby and how living there affects the characters. For some, life on the island is far too slow. It is a rural and isolated, far from the Mainland and somewhat cut off from life. For others, the violence of the race (and other random capaill uisce attacks throughout the year) takes its toll and they find that they can no longer stomach the bloodshed. Yet the island is still beautiful and more than capable of seducing many of the people who live there, in the same way that the fae magic of the capaill uisce can lure people to their doom.

It is Stiefvater’s beautiful writing that allowed the island to captivate me in the same way that it did Puck. Much like Shiver, this novel is gorgeously written. It’s like a young adult faerie tale, weaving supernatural elements around the mundane aspects of Puck and Sean’s everyday life. The detail that she goes to in doing this is nothing short of impressive. While the tiny details may be too much for some, for me it just made her world immersive. At times, I could really imagine myself on the island – experiencing the sights and smells and the taste of November Cake. The novel’s most impressive moment is the night of the parade, which sharply contrasts the normal state of the town with the bloody history on which it’s built. The effigy of the Mare Goddess is particularly striking, reminding the reader of the otherness of the capaill uisce and the bloodshed to come.

While the novel never quite becomes as heart-wrenching as Shiver, it still certainly made me concerned about what would happen to the cast. I found it a very difficult story to predict and I was never entirely sure how the novel would pan out. I love it when a book keeps me guessing – it’s always frustrating when you figure out a twist ten pages into a tale. This was certainly not an issue in this novel. The vicious and unpredictable nature of the horses is emphasised throughout the story and so I was never sure whether it would even end happily. I had no idea who would eventually win the race or even if both of the main characters (and their mounts) would survive the tale.

Yet I only could grow so attached to the characters in the novel because they were so well rounded. I don’t really think that Stiefvater could have done a better job of both Sean and Puck. Both of them were incredibly sympathetic and relatable characters. Most importantly, they both felt like real people. Neither of them were paragons. They could act selfishly (Puck) or insensitively (Sean). Yet they still had noble thoughts at heart. Sean sought his freedom – the chance to live the life of his choice with the capaill uisce that he loves. Puck’s issues are more grounded in the physical, a strong desire to hold her family together and remain on the island that she calls home. Both of the characters are very strong and capable, able to hold their own against people who wish them ill and not afraid to speak their mind. Because of this, I found it difficult to choose who I wanted to win the race and for me, this made the story more effective. While I would be glad for either one to be the victor, it also meant that one of them would have to sacrifice their dreams.

The way that Stiefvater presented her secondary cast was also highly commendable. While Sean and Puck were really the main focus of the story, the reader gradually comes to understand more about the island through the way that others react to them. I initially thought that Gabe was a very selfish character yet gradually began to understand the true meaning of his actions through small things that he said and did. Even grotesque characters such as Mutt Malvern become more sympathetic as the reader comes to discover the reason why they behave so atrociously. Stiefvater never spoon-feeds the reader and this allows the reader to approach their characters in their own way and decide if their actions are forgivable or not.

So, as you may be able to tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s, simply, beautiful – descriptive treat. The setting is haunting, the characters are incredibly complex and the story is unforgettable. I’m really looking forward to reading Stiefvater’s other novels – based on what I’ve seen so far she is certainly an author to follow.

The Scorpio Races can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. zoeyrosehawthorne
    Jun 11, 2015 @ 05:10:21

    I agree with you completely! 🙂 When I read The Scorpio Races I definitely loved it. Haven’t read Shiver yet, but I am sure to. Great review.


    • Kim
      Jun 11, 2015 @ 06:36:06

      Thank you. Shiver is a very different novel bit certainly shares the same written style and general feel of a faerie tale. I can’t wait to read more of her novels.


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