Can We Be Convinced to Love a Monster?

The reviews of “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater are uneven.  It seems her fans, who loved her other series such as “Shiver,” were terribly disappointed by The Scorpio Races.  Although I agree that Scorpio Races is somewhat flawed, I found it much more satisfying than some of her earlier work.  All of her writing is lyrical, provides a keen sense of place, and brings to light some unique characters.  She has a magical way with language, and can create a believable mythology, complete with custom and tradition.  The Scorpio Races invites the reader to visit an imaginary island called Thisby (which has the weather, character, landscape, and plucky people of Ireland) where the mythical “water horses” emerge from the sea in November– flesh-eating horses which stalk and kill–but the good people of Thisby take this in stride, capture and attempt to tame these beasts, and for one reason: they’re wicked fast.  The Scorpio Races (hence the name, spoiler alert) are held every November, and to the winner goes the glory and the pot of gold—if you live to finish the race.  Not only are the horses flesh eaters, they are drawn back to the ocean from whence they came, especially in November, and will take their rider with them to the bottom to drown them if they touch the water again.  The author opens the book with at least three or four people having already been killed by these horses, yet she wants us to believe that her constantly frowning and fiercely independent heroine Kate “Puck” Connolly would enter her own island mare (a normal horse!) in these races to win enough money to save her farm and keep her older brother from leaving the island.  Here’s my beef: I never believed the motivation behind this character. Winning the money, or showing up her brother  was not enough to risk her life and that of her beloved horse.   Many critiques I read also faulted the slow pace of the novel, but how can one say it lacked action when people were being killed or maimed by these beasts every few chapters?  Another complaint was the lack of romantic spark between the romantic leads: Kate, and a brooding loner but gifted horse trainer, Sean Kendrick.  Sean works for a rich horse breeder with a dull-witted son who, of course, is jealous of Sean and out to ruin him.  Sean, however, cares only for his  water horse stallion, Corr, despite the fact that it rips someone’s throat out in one scene, because the horse is a little nerved up.  Yes, rips his throat out, not kicks him to death or something marginally less gruesome.  And here’s the other problem for me: we are asked to love a monster.  These horses are monsters–I don’t care that they are fast as a speeding bullet, beautiful, or magical.  I could not get past that, and I had a bit of trouble totally sympathizing with Sean over the potential loss of his beloved monster.  There is a great body of literature out there that asks us to love a monster or understand those who do (ala Frankenstein or Beauty and the Beast and all its variations), but I think in this case, Stiefvater made the monsters too monstrous to love even for those willing to suspend disbelief.  My last bone to pick is the fact that the author opened up story lines which seemed to lack closure (and this book is not a series).  The character of the beguiling, yet savvy American buyer, George Holly, is dropped.  We never find out what is really driving Kate’s brother from the Island, and several other characters seem introduced with sufficient ink devoted to their description, but then fade into the background.   People who did not care for the story commented that perhaps “horse people” would find it interesting and like it more.  I dismiss this suggestion entirely.  Being a “horse person,” I found the heroine selfish and insensitive, subjecting her faithful island horse to the horror of training and racing next to the killer horses, and pitied the mare over each and every scene where she is eye rolling terrified, shaking, panicked, and terrorized.  I might have cheered if the mare had tossed Kate off her back and high-tailed it off that crazy island herself!

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