You know a novel is good when you read the last few sentences a handful of times, going over and over them again to make sure the sigh you've let out was indeed correct.
The Scorpio Races was one of those books. The end was beautiful and magical, and just made me sigh - with happiness, with hope, with wonder.
But it's not just the end of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races that was good, the whole book was magnificent. I'm a Stiefvater fan, so I'm a little biased, but of all her novels that I've read, this is my favourite by miles.
Every November, the island of Thisby hosts the Scorpio Races. Riders from across the island, and beyond, ride water horses - magical creatures 'born' from the sea and with an irresistable draw back to it. They're fast, and huge, and the Scorpio Races are a mix of bloodshed and triumph, as riders die to win.
In this mix this year is Puck, riding so her brother Gabe won't leave the island, and Sean, who rides every year on the trusty Corr. Puck and Sean find themselves growing closer to each other, and find their lives change in significant ways as the races approach.
Stiefvater is the queen of the slow build. Despite being set over the period of just a few weeks, The Scorpio Races feels like it should be taking place over a much longer time, but that's because Stiefvater's world is so detailed and full of depth that you're drawn in completely, and lose some sense of time. Part of that draw is the protagonists, Puck and Sean, who are my two favourite characters from all the Stiefvater books I've read.
Headstrong and emotional, Puck is the kind of honourable we'd all like to be, especially because she's as flawed as the rest of us. Her desire to keep her brother around means she does something stupid - enter the Scorpio Races - and her desire to prove everyone else wrong means she chooses to do it on her horse Dove, who is not a water horse. Foolish maybe, but I was rooting for Puck the whole way through, while simultaneously being very, very afraid of what was going to happen.
And then there's Sean. He's the strong, silent type, but with real depth and honour. As passionate as Puck, Sean shows it in different ways. He's a character who stood out from the very beginning, partly because of his connection with his water horse. Corr was as well-rounded as any human character in the novel, and I could easily see why Sean was so protective.
Stiefvater is also great at creating worlds, and Thisby is no exception. In my mind I saw it as a cold, bleak island, but with a natural beauty - like something off the coast in the cold English Channel (in the book I think it's a lot closer to America than to the UK). Thisby was a character of its own, changing moods and affecting people's lives with its actions (and those of the waters around it) in the way usually only people can. Its tight-knit community was well rendered - you could see the cosy baker's shop, the butcher's shop everyone uses as a hub for gossip, and the weird sisters who own the kooky tourist trap/alternative goods shop.
As well as the fear I felt for Puck, and for Sean, I also feared coming to the end of The Scorpio Races. The ending is perfect, so, so, perfect, but I really didn't want the book to finish, since I was so absorbed in it. The Scorpio Races is a beautiful, breathtaking novel, and one that I'll be reading all of (not just the last few sentences of) again and again.
How I got this book: Bought