Tuesday 17 January 2012

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Inc.)
HB RRP $24.99 
ISBN 9780545224901
 Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

This beautifully bound and illustrated book caught my eye straight away. The bronzed effect, black silhouetted female rider on a horse and embossed gold letters speaks quality and intrigue.

I have become a fan of Maggie Stiefvater. The elegance and simplicity of her writing reveals a poet’s sensibilities. No words are wasted, although, perhaps, she endows the young male character, Sean Kendrick, with a little too much poetic vision. But then, he is an unusual young man and I’m not surprised his leading lady, Kate Connolly, alias Puck, falls for him. As with all leading men, Sean has skills and abilities which draw admiration from other characters within the story, as well as the reader. He is a gifted horseman and the horses in this story take some handling! They are part mythical kelpie, part harpie, part devil, but beautiful in their dangerousness. Let me explain.

Each year on a frigid beach of the island, the carnivorous water horses, the capall uisce  come out of the foam to hunt. It is the annual test of manhood to catch one and train it to run in the Scorpio Races. Sean Kendrick is a natural, as was his father, But unlike his father, who died in the race years ago, Sean has a small gift of magic with the beasts. He has captured Corr, the red horse his father rode that day and he wins almost every year riding him.

This year, however, against all advice, there’s a girl in the race and she intends to ride a normal warm-blooded, herbivore, Dove. The stakes are high for Kate, who must win the prize money in order to keep her eldest brother from leaving the island to look for work. Otherwise it will be just herself and her slightly autistic brother, Finn, and they are dirt poor.

So, the ‘evil dude’ – he’s Benjamin Malvern, who owns the big flash stables and sells horses to rich Americans like George Holly. Sean is indebted to the Malverns and is slowly working off his debt by using his talents to make them richer. He dreams of saving enough money to buy Corr. The Malvern’s son, Mutt, a useless oaf, jealous of Sean, is always looking for an opportunity to humiliate or harm the gifted horseman.

The myth and legend in this story are part Irish/Celtic culture, part Stiefvater, but it’s appealing and adds to the authentic feel of the harsh but somehow entrancing island life. Having lived on an island myself, in Scandinavia, I could taste the salty wind and the coldness that seeps into your bones after sunset and the freshness of mornings on a deserted island beach. There’s nothing quite like it. Having done her research in the south of England, Stiefvater does a wonderful job of recreating the culture, language and climate of island life.

The build-up of tension is just right. Stiefvater cleverly invites us to invest in the hopes of these two people and their fledgling love, to feel excited and yet frightened about the outcome of the race. Will Kate survive? Will Dove be able to run against the bigger, faster, meaner Capall Uisce without being eaten? Will Sean give up his dream of buying Corr with the winnings of this race just to help the girl he loves win it? Will Mutt Malvern be successful in his attempt to get Sean killed ‘by accident’? And most of all,( to me), does Corr, the water horse with the killer instinct, feel any connection or loyalty towards Sean?

You’ll have to read it to find out!

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com  

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