It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Thus begins The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, and what a powerful line that is. I mean, that sentence can only bring about a heart-pounding page turner right?
This novel should be awesome. The protagonist, Puck, is the first lady to ever enter the annual Scorpio Races held in the tiny island of Thisby. Her love interest, Sean, has won those races every single year for lord knows how long. They both have compelling reasons to risk their lives in this bloody tradition. They should hate each other but hormones are raging. Oh, and did I mention that they ride water horses, mythical creatures that are as fast as they are violent? This all sounds awesome! Why does this novel, then, fall so flat?
I’m well aware that I might be a small dissenting voice among the hundreds of readers and critics who have done nothing but shower this book with praise. If I may be so bold, though, to wonder if they’re confusing gravitas with, um, good storytelling? Yes, I’ll be so bold. Because it seems to me that’s what’s going on around here. Everything in this novel is so somber: Dead parents! Class division! Poverty! The rain! The cliffs! Which in and of itself wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the main characters, Sean and Puck, weren’t also so unflinchingly solemn in every paragraph. I tend to like books in which every chapter presents a different point of view, as The Scorpio Races does. It’s interesting to see different angles of a same story; moreover, the possibility of enjoying two contrasting voices is a delicacy for the mind. The problem here is that there is no difference between Sean and Puck’s rendition. Why? Because they’re so busy being serious and repressed.
I get it, I get it. They’re so at one with the soil of their homeland, so in tune with nature that the harsh land that surrounds them is basically a mirror on which to project all their orphan angst. They get very Wuthering Heights when they describe the cruel environment in which they come of age. Pathetic fallacy, when used correctly, can place you right in the character’s mind. Here, it just makes me want to fall asleep.
Is pathetic fallacy even the correct term? Who cares. Much like an English professor that gives you a long list of definitions of literary devices, this book will mostly drone on and on with little to grasp your attention. Every once in a while there will be some wonderful, evocative passages radiating off a gray narrative:
Example 1: It’s like the truth is a bird that I’m worried of frightening away.
Example 2: “Boys,” she says, “just aren’t very good at being afraid”
For the most part, though, I felt I was sifting through a swamp of earnestness. Halfway through the book, I wanted them to get to the races already so I could finish this and start reading something else. By the end of it, I wanted to have at least one character crack a joke if only to verify that humor still existed in the world.
It’s not that every YA novel has to be in teen speak, or can only deal with the superficial, or must be akin to a stand-up comedy monologue. In a genre that is run amok with orphan children, I’m all for a little bit of gravitas showing up in the pages. But depth does not equate boring and I’m afraid to say that is all I got from this book. Correction, I got boring and some beautifully crafted sentences.