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The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater Beautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place where nothing is earned easily, whether it be money or respect. Sean Kendrick has found that out himself, scraping by as a stable worker. He’s no ordinary stable hand, however, since he is the only one able to truly control the fearsome capaill uisce, the carnivorous water horses that emerge from the sea. Each year, Sean races his beloved water horse, Corr, in the potentially deadly Scorpio Races. Despite the odds in his favor, there’s much more at stake in this year’s race. Puck Connolly, on the other hand, never meant to go near the Scorpio Races, but her own hard luck has changed that. As the two navigate the difficult paths given to them, they must decide which risks are worth taking.

THE SCORPIO RACES stands out as Stiefvater’s most well-written book to date. Her writing remains beautiful and evocative, and it does so this time without ever feeling overdone. She constructs a palpable sense of mood and place using her words, and the characters have authentic personalities and motivations based on what’s shared about their pasts. Certain emotional and haunting scenes have stayed with me long after I finished, and I got goosebumps while reading more times than I could count. As a standalone novel, the story was satisfying and complete in itself, and the aching closing scene had me thinking about it for days. Other strong points of the novel included its unique water horse mythology (which was explained well without too much telling) and the focus on the strengths of Sean and Puck and the meaningful relationship each had with his or her horse. When a romance did surface, it was reflective of the characters involved and based on mutual respect and admiration.

Despite these strengths, I wasn’t able to give the book five stars due to a few weak points. The story was very slow in the beginning and didn’t pick up until about page 160. Told in alternating first-person perspectives, the voices also felt too similar at times. Though this is the best book overall that I’ve read from Stiefvater, I didn’t get caught up in the characters and their emotions like I did in her faerie books (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie). I expect that this story will appeal to a smaller audience than her Shiver novels due to its focus on the human-horse relationships and its slow pacing and quiet romance.

Even with these few small qualms, I greatly enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES because of its gorgeous writing, tangible sense of place, and strong, resilient characters. After reading this, I can’t wait to see what Stiefvater’s two forthcoming standalone novels will bring. It feels like her work will continue to get better and better.

Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.