On the tiny island of Thisby, killer carnivorous water horses emerge from the ocean every fall to eat people and gallop along the beach. The inhabitants of the island capture some of the horses, train them all year, and then race them along the beach for a huge cash prize to the winner. Often at least one rider gets eaten during the race, or ridden into the water and drowned, for the water horses are killers, never fully tame, and always desperate to return to the sea.

I adore this premise. All else aside, it's not "my vampire/werewolf/zombie boyfriend" or "I kill demons/ghosts/robots" or "post-apocalyptic cannibalism/rape/vampirism" or "the government controls the color of your eyes/skin/shoelaces." So huge points for being different. I read this despite getting too bored to even finish Stiefvater's previous book which I tried, Ballad. The Scorpio Races is much better than that one. But, ultimately, it's more ambitious than successful.

It's told from two POVs. One is of a boy, Sean, who works for an eeeeeevil stable owner and has ridden the same water horse to victory five times over. Corr, the water horse, is the only thing Sean loves, since his father was eaten by a water horse during the races and his mother died. The other is Puck, a girl, who loves Thisby and is an orphan after her parents were drowned by water horses. Her brother decides to move to the mainland to find work. Desperate to keep him home, Puck decides to be the first girl ever to ride in the Scorpio Races.

This is very atmospheric, and I love the killer horses. But it's atmospheric in a vague, wifty way that detracts from rather than adds to the story. What country is Thisby in? When is the story set? Are there magical creatures everywhere else, or just in Thisby? There's not enough detail to tell. The supporting characters, apart from the two eeevil ones and the water horses, are also vague. Periodically someone would get eaten by a horse, and I'd always think, "Wait, who was that?"

While Sean is riding Corr, Puck decides to ride her own regular horse, Dove, because the water horses are too dangerous. No one has ever done this before, but there's no rule against it. I feel bad complaining about a plot point which wasn't the obvious way to go, but the obvious way (have Puck ride a deadly water horse) would have worked much better. Or even have Puck ride her own horse because her own horse is SO badass and special that she can stand up to the water horses.

The problem is, Puck's horse is not only a regular horse, but not even a super-special Black Stallion type horse. Just a fairly fast mare who is terrified of the water horses, which could easily kill her and very well might. It seems cruel for Puck to subject her horse to the races under those circumstances. Also, if a regular horse always had a chance of winning (since it's more obedient than the water horses) why aren't people riding regular horses in the Scorpio Races all the time?

This plot choice makes Puck look cowardly and selfish, introduces a plot hole, and deprives the reader of the fun of watching Puck struggle to master a deadly water horse. The last storyline is much of the reason why I wanted to read the book, and you never see it - Sean has already thoroughly tamed his own water horse. Normally I like "ordinary person squares off against the special people" stories, but in this case, that was less satisfying than the more standard plotline would have been.

Also, the race itself is a very small part of the book. Tons of build-up, very quick climax.

I did like aspects of the book, and it's certainly different. Some individual scenes are excellent. But for me, it was too much promise and not enough delivery.

The Scorpio Races


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