The Scorpio Races
Written by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2011, 416 pp.
“There is a girl on the beach” (p. 97).
Part mystery, part adventure, part romance, The Scorpio Races presents readers with Thisby Island in the Scorpio Sea where the male inhabitants harness the power of the capall uisce–horses from the sea—to race once a year for honor, for glory, for the economic change it can make in their lives. The horses are dangerous, striving to reenter the water, while their masters attempt to keep them racing on the beach. Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick knows how dangerous they can be. He was ten when he watched his father lose not only the race, but his life to the horses. Yet as a child, Sean had begun his kinship with the capall uisce, and is considered by many on the island as a type of whisperer of the dangerous breed that must be captured and tamed when they come on land once a year. Sean is master of his own beloved Corr, the water horse that has been with him since he was a boy, yet the horse does not belong to him legally, and, thus, Sean races year after year to earn the money needed to make Corr his own. This year is different as now there is an island girl, Kate, willing and ready to race her own island pony against the water horses to keep her family and home intact. An adventure story that will appeal to both male and female readers, The Scorpio Races will keep you enthralled until the very end of the book.
The Scorpio Races is an atmospheric novel that draws readers into the island community, the myths of the water horses, and the “in-between place” where reality and fantasy dovetail so effortlessly that adolescents will wish such a place existed even as they realize that if it did, it would be a rugged and dangerous community. Sean and Kate are fully-developed and well-rounded characters who facilitate a lived-through and aesthetic experience for readers. Their growing relationship is questioned by many of the townspeople, but readers will know that it is a natural relationship of equals. This is a great text to be combined with other myths from across the world, and especially with myths from the British Isles about Selkies and mermaids. It could also be used as a way for students to discuss “women’s work” and how societies change (or don’t) when societal norms are challenged. Of course, it could also be used with stories of horses and racing, classics such as National Velvet (Enid Bagnold, 1965) or The Black Stallion (Walter Farley, 1941). In a unit on myths, this book could be paired with others such as Selkie Girl (Laurie Brooks, 2010), or Sirena (Donna Jo Napoli, 2000). If looking at how young people may fight for the survival of their communities, their families, or the larger society, then The Scorpio Races could be paired with Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolff, 2006), The Last Book in the Universe (Rodman Philbrick, 2002), or Partials (Dan Wells, 2012). While very different books, a study with these four novels would be great reads for most adolescents.
The Scorpio Races contains themes about the importance of family, the acknowledgement of geography and society’s response to it, the need for others to grow as individuals and as a culture, and the beauty of myths. The story allows readers to live through a truly mesmerizing story where both males and females are instrumental to family and community–and this is done with an eye on adventure and danger! Readers will also be able to think about how taking a stand, and holding steady to their convictions and a work ethic are admirable traits to possess.
Author Maggie Stiefvater started her conception of the story with myths of water horses in mind, but took her own ideas and created what is now The Scorpio Races. More information about the book and the author can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Maggie-Stiefvater/e/B001JSBZZ6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 and http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-scorpio-races/. The book has recently been optioned for a movie. Information about water horse myths can be found at http://fantasyhorses.homestead.com/water.html.
Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati