Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scorpio Races

When this book won a Printz honor this year, I had my nose out of joint because Daughter of Smoke and Bone (possibly my favorite teen read of last year) didn't win anything. Then I read a brief summary of the plot and thought, "Water horses? Really? There's no way this is going to interest me." Somehow, despite my snootiness, or perhaps because of it, I wound up with The Scorpio Races in my hand---and it utterly surprised me.

Water horses might bring to mind some sort of pegasus-of-the-sea image. In actuality, the water horses of this book are monsters who feed on flesh, human, if they get a chance. And get a chance they often do, since the dangerous capaill uisce are prized by the island community of Thisby whose entire year revolves around a competitive, and usually fatal, capaill uisce race. For two years in a row, Sean Kendrick has won this race. Sean is known for his uncanny deftness with the deadly beasts. His own father was killed in the Scorpio Races when Sean was just a child and ever since he has worked as a kind of indentured servant to the richest man on the island, the landowner who raises both normal horses and the water horses for profit. This same landowner is holding the mortgage on the modest home of Puck Conolly and her brothers. The Connollys have fallen behind on their payments and their house is going to be taken from them. Which is when Puck gets the idea that to save the house--and to stop her eldest brother from leaving the island--she will enter the Scorpio Races and win. Both Puck and Sean have fierce motivations to win the purse. Sean has the experience; Puck has the heart. The islanders respect Sean but disdain Puck, who is messing with their ideas of proper female behavior. Then Puck makes a decision that turns the tradition of the race totally upside down, and Sean is one of the few people to defend her action.

Gorgeous writing marks this novel all the way through. Strong characters, with strong human flaws, combined with the beautiful writing make this an excellent choice to read and an excellent choice for a Printz honor. I’m glad I gave it a chance. I highly recommend it.

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