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The Scorpio Races

May 5, 2014

I read about The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, at Things Mean a Lot, and got interested because Ana says it’s about small communities, among other things. Having lived in the Washington DC suburbs before I moved to small-town Ohio, it took me a while to get used to some of the customs, like looking inside a car to see who is driving it or allowing time during grocery shopping for catching up on what other peoples’ children are doing.

The main characters of this YA novel, Kate (nicknamed Puck) and Sean live on Thisby, a fictional island. Kate says “Thisby’s tiny: four thousand people on a rocky crag jutting from the sea, hours from the mainland. It’s all cliffs and horses and sheep and one-track roads winding past treeless fields to Skarmouth, the largest town on the island.” Everyone on Thisby knows each other, at least by family name or reputation. It sounds a lot like the village where I work, population 2,408 with a college of about 1,600 students. Everyone knows something about everyone else.

There are terrible, magical horses that arise from the sea around Thisby in November. Bloodthirsty creatures, they can sometimes be tamed enough to ride, and that’s what happens in the scorpio races. Aside from the magical aspect, this is a horse book, very much like Misty of Chincoteague or King of the Wind. Two plucky young orphans who love their horses above all else find each other. There is no one like them, because no one else can possibly love and understand horses, real or magical, as well as they do.

The magical horses are called capaill uisce, and Sean’s horse is one of these; his name is Corr. Kate’s horse is one of the regular kind, and her name is Dove. At one point Sean explains that “uisce stallions generally prefer to view land horses as meals, not mates, but sometimes a particular mare will take a stallion’s fancy.”

The plot hinges on the fact that Sean needs to win the scorpion race so he can buy his horse from its owner and Kate needs to win so she can buy her family’s house from its owner (the owner in both cases is the same man, the richest islander). As the first female to sign up for the race, Kate also has to fight against male prejudice, and all the women are rooting for her.

Before the big race, we see how the capall uisce of a fallen rider is given back to the sea: “the mare lifts her hooves high as the water courses in around her pasterns and then she cries out to the sea. There is something not quite horselike about her eyes already.”

Who wins the race? If you’ve ever read a horse book before, I expect you know the basic outline of how it all turns out. The actions of one person affect everyone because, well, no man is an island.

Did you have a favorite horse book, growing up?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2014 10:59 am

    I loved the Chincoteague novels, not just for the horses, but for the surprisingly edgy island life portrayed. (Those kids didn’t have it easy!) And I read ALL the Walter Farley books, even though they were pretty terrible (I am good at overlooking bad writing now, and I feel I owe it all to Mr. Farley.) I have to say, though, my favorite horse-and-his-girl novel (and it isn’t really a horse novel) is The Diddakoi, by Rumer Godden. (I did like The Horse and His Boy, but not because of the horses.) (enough parentheses!)

    • May 5, 2014 11:14 am

      My sister-in-law loves The Black Stallion, so I read it, but I was already too old to fall under its spell. I haven’t ever read The Diddakoi.
      Have to agree, The Horse and His Boy is not really a horse book. Mainly because the horses talk, I think. The charm of a horse book is the way the children communicate wordlessly with “their” horses.

  2. May 5, 2014 2:10 pm

    I would have loved this when I was a kid. I was a big Black Stallion fan 🙂

    • May 6, 2014 1:01 pm

      There was a children’s book Ron loved that had some kids with a pony cart, and they would load in and their pony would take them to the beach. I always thought that sounded like paradise!

  3. May 5, 2014 4:32 pm

    I’ve seen this book around a lot so was most intrigued to read your review. I had two horse books, one for my innocent days: Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, and one for later adolescence: Jilly Cooper’s Riders (helas! as Gide would say). I did love them both.

    • May 6, 2014 1:01 pm

      I went through a brief horse book phase, but never ran across your two books. Never too late, I guess.

  4. May 5, 2014 8:01 pm

    I completely skipped the “horse novel” phase that a lot of people went through. Possibly I was differentiating myself from my older sister, who was very into the Black Stallion books. I read a few of them (Misty of Chincoteague too) but never cared much for them.

    • May 6, 2014 1:04 pm

      Horse books were a subset of the many children’s books I read about animals, and I always thought it was interesting how much devotion horses and dogs inspired in fiction.

  5. May 7, 2014 4:27 pm

    I want to say I had one, but I’m not completely sure if that’s so or if it’s just a case of remembering seeing them in the library. I knew people that were into a semi-famous series of animal books; I think it was probably a period when I stopped reading for a while.

    • May 7, 2014 8:19 pm

      The horse books did always have similar covers!
      I think they help spur the development of a certain kind of empathy, with creatures who can’t speak for themselves.

  6. May 8, 2014 10:25 am

    I definitely went through a horse stage when I was little. 🙂 I really want to read this, but I haven’t got to it yet!

  7. May 9, 2014 12:08 pm

    This one sounds interesting. When I was growing up I loved reading Black Beauty, definitely my favorite.

    • May 9, 2014 1:49 pm

      Your favorite was one of my two favorites–they were in every public library, so I think there are lots of us.

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