Synopsis: Two outcast orphans come of age on a small European island, bound to their community and traditions via the mystical, vicious horse-monsters that can exist only here.
Book Review: I was wary at first. A book about orphaned teenagers? Coming of age? With a strong focus on horses? This sounded suspiciously like the sort of 80s preteen lit that had been done absolutely to death. I felt like Fred Savage asking “Is this a kissing book?” But it was for book club, so I did my due diligence.
By the fifth page I was intrigued. By the tenth page I was hooked. After that, it was all over for me. The Scorpio Races is excellent. I had forgotten that a million knock-offs are launched in imitation of an actual great originator. And sometimes, after forty years have passed and only the ancient ones still remember the faded fads of yore, a true devotee of the progenitor genre will spend a decade refining all her dreams into a successor that captures that greatness once again for a new generation.
The Scorpio Races reads like a labor of love. The island state captures life in a small, isolated community with striking fidelity. The closeness to history, the depth of the communities roots and traditions that hold one tight, and the stifling economic realities that drive the young and ambitious away. Even the smallest of supporting characters is many-layered, with complexities that can often only be seen by subtle implication (with the possible exception of Mutt). The plot is straight-forward but not simplistic — our heroes’ problems are easy to identify but difficult to navigate. The horse-monsters are religion made manifest, the sort of deep magic that tap into spiritual traditions rather than high fantasy spell-slinging.
I’m not sure the novel has a Statement that it is Making. It’s not the sort of thing I usually am taken in by. But it has immense amounts of heart. In a more subtle way than I’m used to, it is commenting on the nature of love. A strong, vivid style of love. Not the sappy, lovey-dovey stuff. It’s the loyal love of one’s homeland, the awe and fear of nature’s majesty, and the fierce love of two survivors finding mutual respect and respite. Very different from what I normally read, and I am happy to have read it. Recommended.
Book Club Review: There’s something here for everyone. I don’t think this will spark a lot of fiery debate or provocative takes, it’s not that kind of book. But there’s substance here, enough to give anyone something to reflect and expound upon. Recommended.