Friday, March 23, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

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.


  1. Ok - you are really helping me put together a theory hear! Exhibit A: Everyone loved Delirium; I listened to the audiobook and barely could muster up a "like" Exhibit B: I just read a review yesterday from someone who listened to the audiobook of The Fault in Our Stars and didn't really care for the book at all (which, hello, is amazing) and now Exhibit C: this post! Maybe in all 3 cases we just wouldn't have liked the book anyway, but I'm really starting to wonder how much the *format* affects the reading experience...

    1. Kate, you didn't like the Delirium audiobook? Oh I LOVED the narrator. She was so convincing as Lena, I really felt like she was crying when Lena was crying. her performance elevated that book in my mind, and I even loved it before I listened to it.

      But to each his own, right? Everyone and their brother loved Divergent and I could not stand it. The only reason I didn't abandon it at all was because the audiobook narrator made it more pleasant than it would have had I just read it.

    2. Thanks for the insightful comment, Katie! I think format does influence one's experience with a book. I'm not actually sure how I would have reacted to the print book in this case. I might have glazed over Puck's selfishness a bit if I were reading her voice in my head, and not minded as much. Fiona Hardingham did an exceptional job with her character, portraying Puck in a way that was true to the way the character was written, which perhaps highlighted her negative personality traits for me.

      I suspect the audiobook made me more willing to stick with this book, though. The pacing is rather leisurely, and I might have lost interest, but the narrators of the audiobook were so good, they really kept me listening.

  2. I am listening to the audiobook of this one as well and cannot connect with it at all. I am coming very close to abandoning it but I am plucking along because just about everyone on my Goodreads friends list has given it four or five stars and said it gets better halfway through. (I am halfway through and not finding it better yet.)

    Even the setting I'm not feeling as much as everyone else. Yes, most people say they can't connect with the characters but loved the setting and mythology of the whole story. I can't even say I love that.

    1. I hear you. Well, you know, life's too short to get hung up on books you aren't connecting with...

  3. Oh, I wanted to also mention that Maggie Stiefvater basically did everything in all her book trailers. She wrote the music and did all the art for the Mercy Falls books too. In fact, I downloaded the Mp3s and put them on my iPhone because I loved the songs so much (she offers them as free downloads on her website).

    1. Seriously, I am in AWE of her talent. Regardless of the fact that I didn't connect with this book the way I was hoping to, I still think the writing was beautiful, and I can't believe how talented she is in her other creative pursuits, as well. Amazing!

  4. I loved this book. It was well written, and it isn't graphic or crude, and the characters are lovable and believable. The emotions are vivid and poignant. The only points that might be of concern are the parts that describe the deaths of the people and the attacks of the water horses. Other than that the book is great. The age group I'd say this book is best for would be 8th grade and up. This book it amazing. Read it.
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