This was one of the ARC’s I got from the annual ALA conference in New Orleans that I was most excited to read! (It comes out on October 18th). Going to the conference, I knew Maggie Stiefvater would be there, and I was looking forward to meeting her and hopefully getting a copy of Forever, which I did get. I had no idea she had a whole other book coming out (separate from her other series), and it was just a pleasant surprise!
The ARC cover is different from the finished book cover, but it’s clear from either cover that the story involves horses. I’ve never been super good with horses. I’m a dog person. Dogs love me. I was even a dog-walker at one point in time. But horses never seemed too fond of me. I love looking at them though, and I always loved a good story that involved horses and the people who are good with them. So…I knew Stiefvater was excellent with character development and I knew the book involved horses, so I figured I would love this book.
I apparently can never learn from my past mistakes of judging a book by its cover. I really had a hard time enjoying this one. For starters, it took me about a week to read the whole thing. Granted, I have been obsessively watching the show Felicity, but still. It never takes me this long to read a book, no matter its size. I just could not get into it. I kept re-reading the first couple of chapters to try understanding what was happening, but it didn’t work for me.
Any way, this is what it’s about: an island of people who race dangerous creatures called water horses. People die every fall when the water horses emerge from the water. Yet, the Scorpio Races always still take place. The races involve an intense two week training period, a lot of fighting amongst the contenders, a lot of shady water horse deals, and of course a lot of blood. These things weigh a lot more than normal horses, and are drawn to the ocean where I think they can swim as well as they can run on the shore in the fall. It was hard for me to picture the things because I never really got a good image of them besides their coloring and random details about their eyes or hind legs. All I know for sure is that they are nearly impossible to train and race, and that only one person kind of understands them.
The book goes back and forth between Puck, the first girl ever to enter the race, and Sean, a four time champion. Both are orphans who have lost their parents to this harsh, somewhat impoverished island. Puck at least has her brothers. Though, the oldest brother announces early on that he’s abandoning them and the island for the mainland and a better job. And a major reason that Puck initially enters the race is because she knows it will keep her oldest brother on the island a little bit longer. Eventually you learn that a lot of money is owed on their family house, and that is another reason she puts up such a brave front.
Sean races every year for his employer who lets him practice every day with Corr, a water horse, who while still extremely dangerous, is attached to the hip to Sean. Sean stays working for his employer who refuses to sell Corr because at least then he gets to be with the animal, though what he really wants is to own Corr. New buyers, tourists, and even Puck seem to inspire Sean to stand up for what he really wants: to own Corr, and he enters this year’s race knowing that if he wins, he can finally buy Corr and leave. And an excruciatingly slow love builds between the two characters, so that by the end of the book, when the race finally happens, you’re not quite sure on who you want to win.
Why did I not love this story? For starters, there is the vagueness. I get that Stiefvater likes to write characters very strongly, and I think that worked in her other series. But here, I needed more story, more plot, more sense. She wrote a lot about the villagers’ every day lives, about how people survived on the island, and about how people didn’t survive. But, I feel like a lot of story was missing.
And a lot of character was missing too…I never understood the oldest brother, Gabe. I never really even loved Puck. I love girls who are the first to do things (like become knights or become president), but, Puck for some reason wasn’t so easy to stand by. She wasn’t racing because she wanted to; she was racing for money and selfish reasons. And I know that I keep saying that teens need to be more selfish to be really believable in these books, but here I was wishing for more feminism, more caring for the message she was sending out, and more strength. Sean points out at one point that he notices how much stronger Puck has become in the past couple of weeks, but the sad thing was that I was like, “I don’t see it…”
Also, the romance was not existent till the last 10th of the book, and I felt like there needed to be more build up and less “Well, I guess we’re in love,” kind of moments. I saw how the two characters were similar and would work well together, but I never really felt like they saw that –there was no tension, no crushing, and not nearly enough thinking about each other. And I get that it’s in neither of these character’s mindsets to be a normal lovesick teen, but like with the rest of the book I just felt like it was missing something.
I did find the water horse mythology fascinating. (I just wish I could picture them better – I sort of have an image of buffalo in my head for some reason). And I liked the island politics and the way the side characters responded to Sean and Puck. I even loved Sean and all he was striving for. I just didn’t really believe in Puck. And I definitely needed more plot. I mean the whole book was a preparation for a race that only happens at the very end. And finally when the end happens, I’m looking forward to seeing the outcomes of everyone involved. And for once, I really wanted to see the details about the island, but then it just kind of abruptly ends.
Needless to say, this was not my favorite book. I give it a 4/10, and I hope the author writes more outside of all that happens here.