Sunday, October 9, 2011

Early Review - The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater (4.5/5 stars)

Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Size: 416 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: October 18, 2011
ISBN: 978-0545224901
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I got an advanced reading copy of this book at Book Expo America and was very excited to read it. I enjoyed Steifvater's Shiver series (although I didn't love it) and was eager to see what she would come up with next. This ended up being a wonderful book; it builds slowly (as did her Shiver series) but the world-building and characters are much more well done.

The Scorpio Races happen every November when the water horses come out of the sea to terrorize the island. This story is told from two points of view. The first is Sean, he has been the Scorpio Race champion for 4 years running. Sean has some issues though, he wants a horse and home of his own but is stuck scrapping by while working at a racing stable on the island. Puck is a girl whose family is struggling; her brothers and her have lost both of their parents and are just making a living with random jobs. The Puck decides to enter the Scorpio Races with her pony in an effort to win money to save her house.

I loved the world-building in this book, it was so much better than Steifvater's previous books. The island that Sean and Puck live on has a whole culture and society built around the threat of the water horses and their history.

Puck and Sean are both excellent characters; I could talk about them forever. Puck is fiery and stubborn, but also loyal and steadfast...she has a love for this island that penetrates deep into her bones. She is trying to do the best she can for her family, even if that means bucking the ages old tradition of only using water horses and only men racing in the Scorpio Races. Sean is a mysterious and wonderful character as well. He comes off as so certain and steadfast, but he is different from everyone else. As said in the book Sean has one foot in the island and one foot in the sea. Sean has a rapport with the horses (both normal and water) that is wonderful to read about. He understands them in a way no one else can and is drawn to their fierceness. Beneath all of Sean's calmness is turmoil; he wants to own his own horses and have his own live...not be beholden to someone else's horse stable.

There are a number of wonderful side characters as well; all of them are well-filled out and interesting to read about. The description in the book was magfinificant; you can almost taste the salty air and smell the island while you are reading this book. There is tension and danger throughout the story; you never know when one of the water horses is going to kill someone or wander into the village from the sea.

The only thing that bothered me a bit was the pacing. Steifvater always paces her books the same way; they start very slow and then the action is packed into the last couple pages of the book. So, as in the Shiver series, a lot of time is spent following Sean and Puck around in their day-to-day activities. We watch Sean train horses and watch Puck train with her pony on the beach. While there is some good in this very slow and deliberate building of tension, I also found it a bit frustrating. The race doesn't happen until the very end of the book and then all of the action is packed into the last few pages. I am kind of learning to just expect this from Steifvater since it just seems to be part of her style.

Despite the inconsistent pacing, the book remains engaging. Issues such as whether or not Puck will get to race, whether or no Sean will get to own his own horse, and (of course) who will win the Scorpio Races propel the story forward. The water horses are explained fairly well, but there is always a bit of mystery to them. The book ends well, but is wrapped quickly and a bit abruptly.

Overall I really enjoyed this story, even better than Steifvater's Shiver series. This story has more world building, more of a fantasy/mythology undertone to it, and complex characters that have very real issues and concerns. I loved the way the whole island's existence is focused around the deadly water horses. As with Steifvater's other books the story unravels slowly and in the beginning a lot of time is spent just detailing the characters day to day lives; things do get more exciting during the last few pages. Steifvater does an excellent job with describing the island and the scenes; it was easy to imagine standing on the shore and seeing what these characters were seeing. Highly recommended for middle grade readers and older who love fantasy and/or mythology; just be prepared to be patient and savor the story as it unfolds.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- 100+ Reading Challenge
- Fantasy Reading Challenge

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