Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. 2011. Scholastic Audio Books. Audiobook $79.99. ISBN 9780545357050.
Let me admit this up front: I'm not really a horse person. I went to Girl Scout horse camp in 5th grade, and I liked it, but I've never been enamored of horses the way so many girls are.
So maybe I'm not the ideal audience for The Scorpio Races, a story about a boy and a girl who live on an island where wild, dangerous water horses climb out of the ocean every Fall, and the islanders try to tame and ride them in an annual race. It's a brutal tradition in which not everyone survives, and both Sean and Kate (called Puck) have their own reasons for participating.
My feelings are mixed about the book as a whole, but by the end, I have to admit that I kind of did come to love the horses.
For me, this book's strength lies in its atmospheric setting. I could practically feel the bracing winds and smell the sea through Stiefvater's prose. Though it is fictional, the remote little island of Thisby feels completely real, layered with its own history.
In contrast, my difficulty in connecting with this book lies in the character of Puck. She's selfish, prickly, and often startlingly ungrateful: a difficult character to like. I'm usually all for a character with flaws, and her flaws may very well make her more endearing to many readers, but Puck's self-centered outlook grated on me. Despite the fact that she does show growth, compassion, and maturity toward the end of the book, I felt I spent too much time simply trying to endure her. Alas!
I enjoyed other characters, though-- especially Puck's little brother, Finn, for his loyalty and faith in his sister. I'm pretty sure I said "aww!" every time he made an appearance.
Since this Printz Honor winning novel was also named an Odyssey Honor book for audiobook excellence, and was selected as one of YALSA's Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, I decided to listen to this book on CD. And indeed, the audiobook production is gorgeous. Steve West as Sean and Fiona Hardingham as Puck deliver solid, rich performances and bring so much life to the characters. Both narrators have excellent pacing and British accents that are simply a pleasure to hear.
When audiobooks feature dual narrators, each narrator is responsible for their own main character, but they also read the dialogue of the other narrator's character in scenes where the two interact. I always wonder if the director has both narrators listen to each other's performance, so they can loosely replicate the other actor's pitch and pacing. I don't think all audiobook productions go to that level of detail, but I do believe Steve West and Fiona Hardingham must have listened to each other's performances. Their deliveries of each other's characters in dialogue scenes are spot-on, making for a seamless listening experience.
Not only are the narrators utterly fantastic, but Stiefvater appears at the end of the audiobook with an informative and interesting author's note explaining the research she did about water horse mythology.
Also, the audiobook is framed by evocative music that suits the story perfectly-- and which, as I was astounded and impressed to learn, was composed by the author herself. Talk about talent! The music is also featured in the mesmerizing book trailer, animated by Stiefvater. I am in awe. Take a look!
In the end, although The Scorpio Races was a somewhat uneven read for me, I can appreciate its merits, and can see why it has garnered so much recognition. It is a beautifully written, fantastically original novel.