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Books Read in 2016: THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

As mentioned in my Reading Challenge Categories post, one of the challenges I’m working on in 2016 is a Readings in Genres challenge for the alumni of my grad school program. We have one book in each of the six official genres (Young Adult, Romance, Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery) and an additional bonus book in an unofficial genre (Historical Fiction) to read, one assigned for each month, with the expectation for participation being a 500-word response/review posted for discussion. I’m also challenging myself to write reviews of a minimum of 250 words for at least 75% of the books (challenge goal of 60 total) that I read this year. And since I’ve also challenged myself to post on the blog more regularly, of course these challenges will converge.

That said, here’s my first review of 2016—for The Scorpio Races, the Alumni Readings in Genres (ARIG) Young Adult selection for January.

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The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Alumni Readings in Genres (ARIG) “book club” Young Adult selection for January.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Description (from Goodreads):
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.

As a girl in the 1970s, I was obsessed with horses. I read the Black Stallion books and then moved on to the innumerable “girl and her horse” books, both contemporary and historical, as many as I could get my hands on through the Scholastic Book Club order forms. This love eventually morphed into young adult historical romances (in which horses still appeared but the girl was usually riding the horse to meet up with her first crush/love). When I read the description of this book, I hoped that it might be reminiscent of those books and let me reach back 30+ years to experience some of those same emotions. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. There were three main areas in which I had trouble with this book: the choice of dual (dueling?) first-person viewpoint characters, the inconsistent worldbuilding, and the unbelievable premise.

I’ve never been a fan of books written in first-person POV. It works in genres such as Gothic Romance, in which the reader needs to be locked inside the head of the main character. But in a book with two main characters, I find that using first-person POV for each almost never works well—and I’ve read many examples in different genres from different authors. The problem with this book is that there wasn’t enough differentiation between the two viewpoints. I never felt like the narrative settled well within Puck’s or Sean’s personalities—but that each was actually written from the author’s viewpoint instead. One of my other big issues with first-person viewpoint stories is not being able to get away from the main character if I don’t connect with and/or like him or her. That wasn’t as big of a deal here, since there were two of them—not like it was in Mockingjay, when I was actively rooting for Katniss to die the first time I read it—but it was problematic because they weren’t unique, individual characters. So I ended up not really caring about either of them.

Beyond the problem with the characters, though, I had a hard time with the building of the world this was supposed to be set in. The idea of someone taking a real-world place and adding fantastical elements to it is not new, but it has been done so much better so many times that this came across as completely unbelievable. If this is a world in which there are magical/paranormal/supernatural creatures, I want to see more that’s magical/paranormal/supernatural. Why were the waterhorses the only non-mundane things in this world? Also, I couldn’t quite figure out the physical location or time period. It was sort of modern-day, but then there was Puck’s brother’s car with running boards, like an old Model-T or something. Was this island supposed to be off the coast of Ireland? The names suggested that, but then there are plenty of islands off the coast of North America where a single immigrant group settled, so it could have been on this side of the Pond, too. But then there were too many minor details given about things/people who were really unimportant to the story, and that frustrated me, when I wanted to know more about the main settings and workings of this world.

Ultimately, the thing that kept me from enjoying this book was the unbelievable premise. The entire time I was reading, I could never quite suspend my disbelief—I kept coming back to the question of why. Why would a group of people have settled on this island however many hundreds of years ago when these magical creatures come out of the sea every year and try to eat them and their livestock? Why would they stay here? Then, why would they attempt to capture these creatures and race them when they know it’s going to lead to horrific, bloody deaths every single time? And this is where it comes back to worldbuilding—and back to the Hunger Games books. If this had been created as a world in which a powerful leader is commanding people to do this for the sport of seeing who survives and who dies, then it would make sense that people do it. But to do this just to do it? I couldn’t buy in to that. Especially for a character like Sean, who witnessed firsthand what these creatures are capable of.

Because I do have the background of reading the horse books as a girl, I wasn’t surprised that most of the book focused on the training and slow-build of action/anticipation and that the race itself was a very short percentage of the book. However, by the time the race did finally come around, I didn’t find it very interesting because of my lack of connection with the characters and setting and my disbelief in the premise of which it was supposed to be the climax. That said, this author does have an interesting writing style, and I may look for something else of hers to read later.

View all my reviews

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brittany permalink
    Wednesday, January 13, 2016 4:20 pm

    She wrote the Shiver series, which I liked. I haven’t read this one yet.

    Liked by 1 person

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