Book review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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Imagine beautiful, multi-coloured horses that rise out of the sea and gallop across the sand in a rainbow-soaked spray of moving light...

Sounds seductive? You’ll think again when you immerse yourself in top teen writer Maggie Stiefvater’s stunning novel, a breathtaking fantasy ride through hell and high water.

Author of the best-selling books, Shiver, Linger and Forever, a brilliant, other worldly werewolf romance trilogy, Stiefvater charts new territory in this violent, stand-alone thriller.

Ostensibly an adventure story about daring life-and-death racing on brutally unpredictable sea horses, this is also a philosophical tale about an island people’s love/hate relationship with the creatures that have made their homeland notorious and helped to fill the coffers.

The two youngsters whose relationship will grow out of unimaginable peril, and the ambitions and motivations of those who make money out of the Scorpio Races, drive a timeless cautionary tale written with the verve and lyrical beauty that are now typical of Stiefvater’s young adult fiction.

The capaill uisce are horses which emerge from the sea beneath the chalk cliffs of Skarmouth every November and are greeted by the nearby inhabitants with both dread and excitement.

The horses are drop-dead gorgeous, wild, fearless and savage – carnivores that feed on the flesh of animals and humans – and they are used as mounts for the deadly Scorpio Races, a test of riding skills that is both suicidal and utterly irresistible.

Thousands gather to watch the horses and the sea that washes the inevitable spilling of blood from the sand. Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick, with his horse-whispering gift, knows the dangers of the capaill uisce. With one foot in the ocean and one on land, he is the only man on the island capable of taming the beasts.

His father was killed by a rampant sea horse and Sean races, and frequently wins, to prove something both to himself and to Corr, the magnificent sea horse he has trained and grown to love.

Orphan Kate Connolly, known to one and all as Puck, enters the race to save her family from fragmenting. Faced with poverty, the eldest of her two brothers is threatening to walk out and leave for a new life on the mainland. If Puck wins the prize pot, it might keep the siblings together.

But first she must overcome the opposition to a girl taking part, and the mount she has chosen is not a ferocious and fleet-footed sea horse but darling little Dove, her own ordinary mare.

When Sean sees Puck on the beach he doesn’t think she belongs. What he doesn’t realise is that his fate will become entwined with hers. ...

The Scorpio Races takes its readers on a trail of magical mystery through major themes like family allegiance, friendship, jealousy, death and despair.

Images and imagery abound in a truly pulsating story softened only by the subtle, slow-burning and understated romance that burns at its heart.

A unique and wonderful tour-de-force.

(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)