I was warned that The Scorpio Races is a pretty slow book with very little action, that the races take place at the very end of the book and everything else just leads up to it. I figured with this mindset going in, that I would have no problem with this. Besides, I love a good character-driven story. What I didn’t realize was just how slow the slow would be. Just how long it would take for Kate and Sean to meet, much less talk, much less talk civilly. Just how long it would take to me start relating to the characters. Thankfully, I did slowly grow to care about Kate and Sean and others, but it did take longer than it should have.
That is The Scorpio Races’ greatest weakness. But once I was involved in the story, I felt like I was there on Thisby. I was also mad at Kate’s brother Gabe, frustrated with Mutt Malvern, and anxious about who would win the race, Sean or Kate or neither. I slowly became endeared by their life on the island.
The romance aspect of the book I was hoping to enjoy more. As I said earlier, it’s several chapters before Kate and Sean are even aware of each other’s existence, much less meet, much less carry on a conversation, much less spend time together. Then, by the time they are running into each other more and people are starting to wonder if the two of them are becoming something and you think we are going to get to watch the relationship develop, we are subjected to this line:
For a week we ride together.
There is more summary after this but seriously Maggie, that’s what I get?! A week of riding after their thrilling ride together but before they kiss, all that good lead-up, after so many detailed chapters came before it, has been reduced to summary?! Ack!
Also, when they do kiss for the first time, it feels unnatural to me, probably because we do miss so much of them starting to like each other before this. And because there’s no “define the relationship” talk before it either. (Though I’m experiencing this same sort of thing in my current read, so maybe this happens all the time, but definitely not in my world.) I think if their kiss right before the races had been their first, that would have felt more natural.
The voice and tone of the writing also took me some time to get used to, but eventually I grew fond of it as well, with writing like this:
…when I was seven, Dad came back from the docks with his hair close shaven and when I saw him walk in the door and kiss my mother on the mouth, I started to cry because I thought he was a stranger. And that’s what Skarmouth has done, after dark: It’s turned into an entirely different Skarmouth from the one I’ve known my whole life, and I don’t feel like letting it kiss me on the mouth anytime soon.
that perfectly says everything in an honest way.
I think some of the minor characters were one of my favorite parts of the novel. Dory Maud and George Holly were both such colorful, interesting characters, and I also loved Finn. And what I did come to love about so much of the book (despite all the complaining I have been doing so far) was just how real it felt. Here’s an excerpt (though it’s cut up from a much longer excerpt) of a conversation between Sean and Holly that I feel captures the spirit of the story:
“So, you’re not a believer?”
“I believe in the same thing they believe in,” I say, with a jerk of my chin toward town and St. Columba’s. “I just don’t believe you can find it in a building.”
… Holly trots to catch up with me and slides one of the bucket handles out of my hand into his. He grunts at the weight but says nothing.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Looking for God,” Holly says, matching my stride. “If you say he’s out here, I’ll take a gander.”
I’m not certain he’ll find his sort of God sharing this work with me, but I don’t protest.
… And he laughs, and from the distance of his laugh I realize he’s stopped walking. I turn.
“I think you’re right, Mr. Kendrick,” George Holly says, eyes closed. His face is to the wind, leaning forward slightly so that it doesn’t tip him. His slacks are no longer pristine; he’s tracked bits of mud and manure up the front of them. His ridiculous red hat has blown off behind him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. The wind has its fingers in his fair hair and the ocean sings to him. This island will take you, if you let it.
I ask, “What am I right about?”
“I can feel God out here.”
I brush my hands off on my pants. “Tell me that again,” I say, “two weeks from now when you’ve seen the dead bodies on the beach.”
Holly doesn’t open his eyes. “Let no one say that Sean Kendrick isn’t an optimist.”
Despite my earlier complaints about the set-up of Kate and Sean’s relationship, I do think they are a good pair because they are so alike in the ways that it matters and complimentary and different from one another where it helps to be so. They can relate to one and help one another. And though the lack of a “define the relationship” conversation drives me crazy, I do love how Kate describes their relationship towards the end:
“You two are a strange pair. You are a pair, aren’t you?”
“We’re in training.”
The Scorpio Races ends strong. It felt complete but left me wanting more, which I think is how a good stand-alone story ought to end. And by the end of the book you may realize you did not just read a story that is particularly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important for Kate and Sean and the island. And by the end of the story I had completely bought into the mythology of it all and it felt like such a real place, even though I can’t point it out on a map. Though my relationship with this story was a slow burn, I think the pay-off was worth the journey.
Content Advisory: Mild language and violence
Have you read The Scorpio Races? What were your thoughts?