Last night, I made the mistake of attempting to tell my husband about The Scorpio Races, which I’d finished reading a few minutes before.
The problem was that I was still slightly overwhelmed by the beautiful ending and got a bit teary — at which point he nodded wisely, poured me a wine, and backed slowly out of the kitchen.
The surprise is just how much it blew me away. It is one of the most beautifully realised, atmospheric and tense stories I’ve ever read. Seriously, this novel is a master class in creating a sense of place, and populating it with perfectly drawn characters facing impossible choices.
It’s a love story, and not just one between a boy and girl, but between a girl and her horse, a girl and the wild island she lives on, and a boy and his man-eating water horse.
The story is set on the fictitious island of Thisby, some time in the past. The island is famous for its murderous capaill uisce, equine creatures that come out of the cold sea each November and are saddled and raced by the locals on the windswept beach. It’s an unforgiving, violent and bloody spectacle, and always ends in bloodshed.
The story has two narrators, Kate (aka Puck) and Sean, who each need to win the race for equally compelling reasons. They’re drawn to each other in the weeks leading up to the race, heightening the stakes and complicating their own situations.
As with Maggie’s other works, The Scorpio Races is a bittersweet story. So, yes, there are heartbreaking moments. But they serve to make the moments of triumph all the more moving and rewarding – and make the emotional journeys real.
I really loved this book. It was one that I didn’t want to put down, and equally didn’t want to end. (And yes, I can talk about it without welling up now…)