I won this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways.
Technically, I won the book on November 1st, but through a series of odd events (delayed shipping and a package that was likely misdelivered), I did not receive my copy until April. However, the people at Goodreads and at Scholastic were remarkably helpful and made certain that I did eventually get my copy.
Considering how much trouble it was to ship this book to me, I really wish that I had been able to give it five stars, but it never hit five star territory for me.
The book has a wonderful concept, but I found it distinctly lacking in pacing. Unlike Stiefvater's previous books, I did not gobble this book down in one sitting. Instead, when I was about 150 pages in, I set the book aside and read other books before continuing and finishing this one. As much as I liked Sean and Puck, I did find myself drawn into their story very deeply in the beginning. Once the book hit the halfway point, though, it sped up and held me enthralled to the end.
Some of my goodreads friends have claimed that this a book for Horse Lovers. I'm not sure about that. As Stiefvater makes clear, water horses are very different from horses, from their carnivorous eating to the way in which they do not bond with their riders. Instead of being a book for Horse Lovers, then, I would say that is a book for people that love setting.
In my real life, I work in Detroit. That city is a special place. It's scrappy. By that I mean that Detroit has seen so many tragedies, from big events like the collapse of the auto industry and the rights of 1967 to the individual tragedies like the violent deaths of so many young people. Local politicians are sometimes flagrantly corrupt (see Kwame Kilpatrick) and every time the future looks bright for the city, something happens to knock it down again. But the residents of the city have not given up. They fight back against crime. One such group is called the Detroit 300--they pick a specific crime and search (sometimes even door-to-door) for information and for the assailant. And they get results. As bad as things are, people continue to fight. Once you fall in love with Detroit, you understand. It's not just a place; it's a city that refuses to give in. It's stubbornness. It's a refusal to accept a reality wherein Detroit falls permanently.
Stiefvater gets that, gets what it means to love something that it so so unstable and always on the edge of ruin. The Scorpio Races is not about Detroit. It's setting is an island in the Scorpio Sea, apparently off the coast of an Ireland-like country. Its industry is located in two primary groups: fishing and horses. Even in the water, you can't avoid horses. Since the water horses live in the sea surrounding the island, fisherman are especially at risk of death. On the island, some work with captured water horses (which can survive on land, even though they continue to seek a return to the sea). They use magic to restrain the creatures, to prevent them from lashing out and killing. They race the water horses once a year and try to breed them with familiar land horses--although they never know if the water horse will see the mare as a love interest or dinner. Outside of fishing and horses, life is difficult. There are few jobs, and creating a future for oneself is not easy. Still, those that stay on the island do so because they love it.
Puck and Sean are at that liminal moment in their young lives when they have to decide what they want to fight for. Puck's brother is leaving the island, but she loves it so much that she cannot imagine a future away from it. That realization forces her to recognize that she must then find a way to carve a life for herself on the island. Winning the Scorpio Races will help her to gain control over her path.
Sean, on the other hand, is a few years older than Puck. Like Puck, he's an orphan, but unlike her, he has a job. He works for Malvern, the richest man on the island. Throughout the year, he runs Malvern's stable, but as the races approach, he trains the water horse, Corr, that killed his own father. For the past six years, he's ridden Corr in the races. For the past four years, he's won. And since Malvern owns Corr and gets 90% of the winnings from the race, Sean is unable to leave this life.
Puck and Sean are trapped by their love of the island, and when they finally meet, they recognize that within each other. It brings them together and gives them something to fight for.
But will it be enough, when both must win the Race, and only one can?