It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
The Scorpio Races is yet another victim of bad hype. The blurb and the hype itself market it as a fast-paced, action-packed thriller, when in fact, The Scorpio Races is all about relationships, the island and its sea, and tradition. I'm quite sure that I wouldn't have liked it half as much as I did had I not read incensed reviews blaming the marketing for their skewed expectations. This is a book you come into knowing you're not in for a wild ride, but a long and cozy one. I enjoyed it far more than I expected as well, and because this would otherwise turn into me gushing about its awesomeness, I'll start for the reason why I took off a star.
I stated in another review that I'm not one for the usual romantic entanglements, especially not ones stated to be above and beyond average. For the most part, I liked Sean and Puck's developments together. It's the first time in a long time that I've seen two love interests spend time together because they shared something in common. Those bits had me convinced that they did like each other. What had me all sour was the proclamations by everyone else. I wasn't sure if this was meant to be seen as an exaggeration, but everyone on the island and America seemed to think that what Puck and Sean had was something special. Like, for the rest of our lives special.
Now, seeing the time frame that they allegedly live in (I'll talk more about this below), I could deal with this, if not for the fact that these statements were reiterated again and again. The anvil dropping became too much, but I did like that there was no large romantic gesture towards the end. We are sorely lacking in the absence of these. Too many YA novels of late with romantic threads either end with the latter or with some shocking cliffhanger. I also have to say that I appreciated the standalone far more than I wish I did. These are sorely lacking as well.
Now here's what got me really frustrated. I assumed the era was modern, because of the way the residents of Thisby spoke. Any formality I chalked up to living on an island. There were cars and electricity. All in all, a place that could easily exist off the shores of England or Ireland. However, when we were introduced to a certain American, Sean commented that over there, they had "bowler" hats. It was only then that it dawned to me that this was meant to be taking place in the Edwardian era.
I was confused now, because there were no traces of slang that would come with living on an island where the main economy came from fishing and the races. It made sense, though, seeing that Puck spoke rather nastily about a boy who seemed to have Down's syndrome and never about her education. Then came Sean musing about how the competitors should stop seeing Puck for her "gender". That one threw me off so much I sat down and tried to figure out how he could possibly know about gender from what seemed to be a paltry education where it's likely that the woman's suffrage movement has definitely not touched. In fact, Sean claimed to run the races and the stables for the past six years (he's nineteen) and spoke not once about education. He was also an orphan who didn't have time to read. Where would he possibly get that word?
The time frame was never formally set and while I enjoy taking bits and pieces of worlds and putting them together myself, I would have appreciated more hints. Outside of the boy who seemed to have Down's syndrome, Jonathan Carroll, there was zero representation of any other minority. I didn't see how that was possible considering the amount of tourists Puck continuously talked about. An Irish/English/Scottish island was lacking in diversity and education, surely the sight of any person of color would merit attention, wouldn't they? I didn't understand why the American had to be the generic white rich guy when the only thing that seemed to distinguish him from the others was his accent. Would it have been all that bad to make him black or any other ethnicity?
Toward the end of novel, a photographer asked Puck if she was involved in the suffrage movement. This cemented the theme that had also been dropped like anvils on top of the reader. What frustrated me about this particular thing was that the theme was brought to no satisfying conclusion.
When Puck is about to participate in a ceremony to announce herself as a rider to the horse goddess, Epona, the male riders denounce her abilities and her seriousness. It was sickening but a really accurate presentation of not only the kind of thing that happened back in the day, but also now in male-dominated fields. The ceremony itself was led by Peg, who was the most loved woman on Thisby because of her ability to strike fear in men's hearts, and the person who led Puck to the ceremony was Elizabeth, one of three sisters whom Puck trades with regularly. This ceremony took place at the end of the Scorpio Festival where a woman dressed as the horse goddess danced and teased people with a shell that would grant their wish. Now, all three of these women (and possibly more) were present when Puck was denounced. Yet not one of them spoke up for her. The woman in the horse goddess dress could have, but she didn't. In the end, it wasn't Puck herself who went ahead and did the ceremony anyway, but Sean who confirmed for her that she belonged.
That part of the novel disappointed me, and the rest of the novel carried the feeling. The only time I saw a flash of solidarity was with Peg at the end, but even that carried not enough weight. The premise of The Scorpio Races was that a girl would race for the first time ever, and yet none of that pride, none of the victory for her agency came through to me. For such a feminist theme, the climaxes and the relationships (Puck didn't even have a girl friend her age!) didn't have enough punch or even enough subtlety.
However, I have read the first of Stiefvater's Mercy Falls series and she's come so far that I can't help but feel that these themes might carry on and branch out in her successive novels. With that hope, I'm excited for her new book, The Raven Boys. I just hope there's no Gabe in those boys. I still can't wash off the gross I felt when he called Puck hysterical and told her to sit down. Ugh.
*Summary and cover from Goodreads.