Five Things I Love about The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The_Scorpio_RacesRemember how I said that I was going to read books by my favorites this year? Well my first go at that was The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I have long loved Stiefvater’s work. I adored Shiver, then was entranced with Linger, was almost disbelieving when I loved Ballad more, and thought the rounding out of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy was wholly satisfying and beautifully written, to boot.

And while I was moving half a dozen times and spent a year or so while jobless and dirt poor, not to mention as I said in my last post, guilting myself into reading books I’d had longer but wanted to read less first (that’s a mouthful!)… Maggie wrote two books that I hadn’t read. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. She wrote four. I didn’t read Linger or Forever until after both books were published. In any case, I was still playing catch up. So finally, despite the fact that I was already reading half a dozen books according to Goodreads… I just picked up Scorpio RacesAnd I ran through it. Here are the things I loved most:

1) The setting is 100% solid. Thisby felt like a real place. A place you could charter a boat to, and find it not much changed from when the book was set… which is not entirely clear, but hardly needs to be.

2) The horses. I was never one of those girls who drew horses and read horse books and wanted a horse for my birthday when I was a little girl… I wanted a unicorn. But seriously, while I would have relished the chance to learn to ride or spend time with horses, that just wasn’t in my life or something my family could afford, so it wasn’t something I thought about much. But it wasn’t the fact that there were horses in the book that impressed me. It was how they were written. I had a professor who said once that the hardest characters to write well are babies and animals, and that is something I’ve always believed, too. The horses in The Scorpio Races rang true.

3) The small-town feminists. Oh Peg Gratton and Dory Maud, I enjoyed every word out of you two. These are women who lead men around by the nose by pretending to be part of their game, and they had their eye out for young, eager, gender-role-challenging Puck. I loved how, rather than taking Puck under their wing exactly, they pointed her in the right direction and pushed her forward.

4) The family relationships. Puck’s relationship with her brothers, more to the point. Finn reminded me of my own little brother, not in his character, but in the feelings he evoked in me—protective, parental feelings, where you are sometimes surprised at the ingenuity and different person-ness of someone you helped raised. And Gabe. While I spent a good majority of the book being angry towards Gabe, I ended up empathizing with and even sort of loving him. It was so easy to understand, his desperation to leave. To have a life that wasn’t constant work and challenge and monotony and death. I can understand that.

5) The love story. This was exactly what I want out of a love story. Which is to say, nothing like most young adult romances (or adult, for that matter, as to the few I’ve read) are like. It is not about physical attraction or even romantic tension. Instead it is about finding someone who is so in tune with how you see the world that they become a part of you without you ever meaning for them to be. It is about respect and mutual understanding and being driven in just the same way. It was so, so satisfying.

These are not all the reasons to read The Scorpio Races, but they are what I loved best.

And since you’ve probably read it well before me, what did you think?

Something Expansive

What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?

I don’t know that there’s one particular author who set off the inspiration for my WIP. I’d been reading a lot of young adult and middle grade fantasy of various types, and really what drove me to work on this story was the wish to write something expansive. Not “epic” necessarily… but definitely expansive.

If I had to point fingers, though… I think I’d have to single out Shannon Hale.

Despite what I just said, I’m really not much of a reader of fantasy. There is very little of it out there that doesn’t give me the urge to roll my eyes… especially high fantasy. Unless you’re J.R.R. Tolkein or Brandon Mull, you can keep your dragons to  yourself, thanks. And fairies? There was the occasional brilliant book (Lament and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater) but mostly they seemed like a thinly veiled analogy for teen angst, which I didn’t care for. And unless it’s Harry Potter, don’t even talk about wizards.

But Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl reminded me of the fantasy that I loved—had always loved. Fairy tale magic. Subtle, natural magic. Magic like the whispering of words on the wind, or later on in the series, of the language of fire and water. The Goose Girl also had this wide, sweeping landscape and crossed whole nations. It had castles and communities and class-action suits. Okay, not exactly that last one, but close enough—a group of people who were fighting for equal standing, for recognition.

Shannon Hale’s world was so real that I felt like I’d been there, maybe in a dream. I wanted to create something like that. A dream-memory-worthy world. That sure sounded expansive to me. I didn’t want to retell a fairy tale, though. Too many people were doing that… or just about to do that. I wanted to write my own fairy tale. It’s one I’ve fallen dearly in love with, with elements from many of my favorite stories throughout folklore, but I’d like to think with my own special twist.

Other inspirations for my WIP include things like Willow, The Princess Bride, and The Polar Bear King, a movie that I loved to death when I was a kid. I wanted my world to stand alongside worlds like these… quietly magical, wonderfully alive fantasy. Even Robin Hood has had its influence here and there.

Another thing all these worlds have in common? The hero in the story isn’t quite what you’d expect. Sad girl, pirate, misfit… There’s a lesson in a lot of these stories that strength can come to anybody who stands up and fights for it. That’s something I wanted to write about, too. About extreme conditions, extreme need making even an outcast into a hero.

Wish me luck with it.