Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Scorpio Races - Book Review

Barnes and Noble

"It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die."

THE SCORPIO RACES is a novel based on Celtic water horses.  Every November on the island of Thisby, the fierce and feral capaill uisce are born from the black ocean water to race along the hard sand of the beach. And every November, the men of Thisby capture these horses to ride them in a deadly race.

“Tell me what it's like. The race."

"What it's like is a battle. A mess of horses and men and blood. The fastest and strongest of what is left from two weeks of preparation on the sand. It's the surf in your face, the deadly magic of November on your skin, the Scorpio drums in the place of your heartbeat. It's speed, if you're lucky. It's life and it's death or it's both, and there's nothing like it.”

The capaill uisce are not your normal horse. Larger, wilder than their terrestrial cousins, predatory and mercurial, the water horses are dangerous beasts at any time of the year, but especially dangerous in November, when the ocean sings in their blood. Hard to tame and unpredictable as the weather, the Scorpio Races are a mixture of celebration and deadly spectacle.

"These are not ordinary horses. Drape them with charms, hide them from the sea, but today, on the beach: Do not turn your back."

Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick is a four-time champion of the Scorpio Races. Year after year he has brought home the purse to his employer, Benjamin Malvern, the man who owns a stable of sport horses he exports to the mainland. This year, however, Sean has more than just his love of the capaill uisce driving him to race. This year, he races for the freedom to leave Malvern Yard, and for the joy of finally owning Corr, the red capall uisce he rides in every race.


“I've grown up alongside Corr. My father rode him and my father lost him, and then I found him again. He's the only family I have.”

Katherine "Puck" Connolly never meant to ride in the races. Since both her parents died in a capall uisce attack, she has had no desire to join that reckless, deathly sport. Her brothers Gabe and Finn, her pony Dove, and their house in Thisby is all she needs. But now there is a real danger that the three Connollys are going to lose their home. In order to save her home, Puck joins the Scorpio Races, pitting her little land pony against the wild tempers of the water horses in a gamble to take home the purse.

"There is nothing special about the mare, nothing at all. A fine enough head, good enough bone. As a pony, she is a beauty. As a capall uisce, she is nothing. The girl too, is nothing special - slight, with a ginger ponytail. She looks less afraid than her mare, but she's in more danger.”

There is initial friction - Puck is the first girl to ride in the races, and she expects to race docile little Dove against the fearsome, meat-loving capaill uisce. Sean, understanding the moods of the water horses, knowing how the salt water makes them as intemperate as the ocean itself, at first resents Puck's intrusion into the races. He knows her danger, knows the probability of her failure and the possible outcome of her death. But Puck is indomitable.

“My mother always said that I was born out of a bottle of vinegar instead of born from a womb and that she and my father bathed me in sugar for three days to wash it off. I try to behave, but I always go back to the vinegar.” 

The two eventually form an alliance. Sean understands the water horses. He especially understands the mood and heart of his own fierce Corr, and in knowing such things has the ability to train Puck and Dove in learning what it takes to beat the capaill uisce.

"This time of year, I live and breath the beach. My cheeks feel raw with the wind throwing sand against them. My thighs sting from the friction of the saddle. My arms ache from holding up two thousand pounds of horse.

I am so, so alive."

The stakes are high for the two of them.If Sean wins, he will have the money to buy Corr and start his own Yard. If Puck wins, she can save her home.

But it is a race, and only one can win.

“I say, 'I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.'
Now he looks at me. He says, very softly, 'It's late for that, Puck.'


Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this book.  The water horses are fierce and terrifying creatures, meat-eaters from the sea. They will kill you as soon as look at you. But there is something gorgeous and free in their ocean souls. When I read about them, I understood Sean's love and distrust of them. They are magical and dangerous and wonderful at the same time.  There is a little bit of island magic in the handling of the water horses, and Sean is a really well-written, quiet, vulnerably invincible kind of character. I really liked him.

Puck is a pretty good female character too. She is spunky enough to be brave, and humble enough not to be annoying. For the most part I really enjoyed the way she played off Sean, even though he was my favourite.

The writing is quite lyrical. You can feel the pulse of the ocean in your blood, smell the ocean air mixing with the saltier stench of the water horses. You can feel the rush of wind and the sense of uncertainty in each line. It's really quite good.

There are some brief suggestive sentences, never anything over the top, but the occasional line that makes you know exactly what the speaker is getting at.  There is some language, but for the most part I never found it totally offensive.

If you're looking for a book about races, high stakes, and very subtle, almost-not-there romance, then this is the book for you.

“He is slow, and the sea sings to us both, but he returns to me.” 


  1. It sounds fascinating! Excellent review!

    1. Thank you so much. It was fascinating. I've never read a story like that before.

  2. Ah, I wondered what that book was about. I'll grab it next time I'm at the library. :-)

  3. Wow. I loved this review! Now I want to read that book. Which I believe is the point of these sorts of reviews, isn't it?
    It sounds really excited and different. It's so hard to find books that are satisfying these days...so I think I'll check this one out. :)

    1. Yeah, it's good. There isn't that in-your-face romance that is in so many YA books these days... really, to me, it felt like it was more about the danger and excitement of the races. :)

  4. Fantastic review, Cat. I might just have to grab onto this book as it certainly sounds different and fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Allyn. I found it more of a story about the races rather than a focus on romance, and I liked that.


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