The races feature the deadly and feared capaill uisce, otherwise known as the water horses, that rise from the Scorpio Sea.
The races always end in the deaths of some horses and riders and only the bravest riders enter. Or, as in Puck's case, the most desperate.
Then Puck meets Sean who works for the cruel and calculating owner of the best horse stable in town. Sean is quiet and introspective and has a mesmerising connection with horses, even the feared water horses. He's won the last four races and is expected to win again. Sean and Puck connect in the midst of the tension and fear surrounding the nearing race day.
Meanwhile, everyone tries to talk Puck out of the races and her possible death, but Puck is defiant.
Celtic tradition and catholic beliefs blended with superstitious village folk and gossip add depth and various interesting and lighter layers to the fantasy elements of the story. The time the novel is set in is unclear as there's no technology as we know it today. The author deliberately keeps time fluid to add to the mystical fantasy aspects of the novel. The remoteness of the island from the mainland and the wild unpredictable weather which stirs up the bloodthirsty horses from the sea adds to the dramatic tension.
Issues of community, family and hardship feature in well-developed sub-plots.
The story is told in first person in Puck and Sean's alternating points of view. This is a gripping read, unlike anything I've ever rear, and suitable for older teens as there is violence and death relating to the races, although it's not gratuitous violence. Once the story world is presented, this book is hard to put down. The reader knows that only one of the protagonists can win the race and is invested in both their storylines. This sets the pace for a page-turning finale.
Stiefvater is a gifted writer and a New York Times bestselling author.
Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press, $19.99
Publication Date: 18 October 2011
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult