Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Steve West and Fiona Hardingham
ISBN: 9780545224901
Pages: 409 pages
Dics/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 7 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc., c2011.

“It’s the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

When Sean Kendrick was ten, his father was killed by a cappal uisce during the annual Scorpio Races on the beach of their tiny island. Ever since, Sean has been taming the cappal uisce for the Malvern family, one of the biggest names in horse breeding. A quiet, brooding young man, Sean trusts his secrets to no one, not even the cappal uisce named Corr who has helped him win the Races several times and who Sean has set his heart on owning one day. Sean’s life is changed when he encounters Puck Connolly, an ambitious young girl who’s terrified of the cappal uisce after they killed both her parents and left her and her two brothers orphans. The only way to keep her older brother from abandoning their family for the mainland is to enter the race, but is she strong enough to overcome her fear?

The story is mainly told from Puck’s point of view, and Fiona Hardingham’s bubbly representation of Puck seems almost effortless. Puck does have her moments of depression, but she is usually able to lift herself out of those depths, if only for the sole reason that she doesn’t want her younger brother to see her so despondent. I think I would get along with her well. Sean, as I said in my summary, is the strong and silent type whose narration counter balances Puck’s effervescent personality. Steve West conveys his reserved nature very cleanly, and voices not just Sean but all the men with clarity and precision. He slips very neatly from Sean’s accent to the horse purchaser George Holly’s American one, with no hesitation or hiccups that I could hear.

This is somewhat different from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which focused on the more well-known werewolf mythology. Here she’s in her own element, bringing to life the little known legend of the water horses, which she says in her author’s note are named various things depending on the country of origin. I’ve never heard of this myth, as I thought Kelpies were simply water horses as opposed to flesh-eating beasts, more “My Little Pony” meets “The Little Mermaid” than vampiric Black Beauty.

But Stiefvater brings more to the table than that just admittedly simplistic description. Through her writings, readers witness the majesty and fascination that Sean feels for these wild animals, as well as the revulsion that Puck feels for these killer beasts. In presenting both sides, readers can draw their own conclusions, and can debate what they would do and how they would feel if placed in the same situation.

The action and adventure sequences leave readers not only picturing the scene, but reeling from it as the horses strike and death courts the characters at every corner. Her writing is cinematic in nature, especially at the very end when you can visualize the panoramic views and the tight close-ups of faces, reactions, and feelings. Those feelings, and especially the relationship that develops between Puck and Sean, are natural and not rushed. They recognize that they are competitors, with each of them needing to beat the other one in order to win the prize money that they both so desperately need. They’re hesitant to act on what starts as admiration and quickly grows in each of them as something more, and their trepidation just adds to the climatic ending.

A Printz Award Honor 2012 for teen literature and Odyssey Honor Award 2012 for Best Audio Production, along with being named to countless Best Books of 2011 lists, this book is a must read for any fantasy fan, and a must listen for all audiobook listeners.

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