Everything about this book was appealing from the get go: a good friend of mine who is heavily into YA had recommended it, it’s written by Maggie Stiefvater (author of SHIVER, which I thought was wonderful), and it had an immediately interesting premise. The story is about a deadly water horse race.
What’s a water horse?
A mythical, terrifying water beast whose closest relative on land is the horse, but which it has about as much in common with as alligators do salamanders. Apparently there are several versions of this creature in various cultures, including the Scottish kelpie. Stiefvater used the differing legends as inspiration but created a magical water steed that was all her own, the capall uisce, for her fearless teens to ride.
I’ve mentioned before how much I loved Laura Hillenbrand’s SEABISCUIT. What’s not to like about a story of a scrappy rider and a tenacious horse? Well, the horses in the Scorpio Races could eat Seabiscuit alive, so, of course, anticipating what will happen in the race is mighty exhilarating. And Stiefvater immediately establishes tension regarding the race in the book’s very first sentence: “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” She tells you immediately there will be blood. It’s only a matter of how much and whose it is.
The book jacket describes a nineteen year old returning champion, a man of few words and few fears. Fate forces the other protagonist (a fierce, yet sentimental girl) into the races. She’s the only girl to ever enter. The young couple’s budding romance makes race questions such as Who will win? and Who will die? even more compelling than they might otherwise be.
Stiefvater’s Use of Magic
One of the things I enjoyed the most about the book was how seamlessly Stiefvater wove magic into her story. The fantasy elements were subtle. The story had a magical realism feel to it, as if these equine monsters might actually exist in our world. Consider these two sentences from the prologue: “Men hang the bridles with red tassels and daisies to lessen the danger of the dark November sea, but I wouldn’t trust a handful of petals to save my life. Last year a water horse trailing flowers and bells tore a man’s arm half from his body.”
There’s been a lot said lately about the YA genre. With headlining authors such as J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins creating characters that turn non-readers into readers and readers into rabid fans, it’s no wonder the genre’s been getting so much attention. And, inevitably, with increased attention, comes increased criticism. Two complaints you often hear about YA is that the stories are too violent for the target audience and the plots are all variations on the same theme. Maybe. But so were the tales of Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm and no one argues about their contributions to the literary world. It’s okay not to like these stories, but it’s foolish to discount their impact. For my part, I’m simply going to enjoy. The dozen or so young adult novels I’ve read lately have been incredibly well written, including this latest by the talented Stiefvater.
How about you? Read any good YA books lately? Have you read THE SCORPIO RACES or any other books by Maggie Stiefvater? Do you like magical realism or stories inspired by real world legends and myths?