The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater 3.5 stars. This review originally posted at The BiblioSanctum.

I remember when I was a kid, I was obsessed with the classic book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. I mean, what little girl doesn't love stories about horses and ponies, right? Well, The Scorpio Races is like the perfect book for that inner little girl in us all grown up.

Every November, people from all over the world swarm to the small island of Thisby for the famous Scorpio Races, where tourists and the local population alike place huge bets on the riders and their horses. Thing is, the mounts involved aren't your regular Thoroughbreds or Appaloosas. Instead, the jockeys ride capaill uisce, water horses native to Thisby. They're also carnivorous predators, known to prey on livestock and other animals on the island. Their fierce aggression and unpredictable temperaments also means they have no qualms about attacking humans, and it is common for riders to die in training or during the races every year.

Even though Kate "Puck" Connolly has had no experience with the races, she decides to sign up, even though she would be the first female ever to do so, and on her own regular dun mare to boot. At first, she does this in the hopes of delaying her older brother from from leaving Thisby permanently for the mainland, but when an eviction notice arrives, it becomes clear that she would have to win in order to save their house. Sean Kendrick, on the other hand, is a four-time champion and hence no stranger to the Scorpio Races. However, with his freedom and a beloved capaill uisce on the line, this year he has good reason to need to win too, for more than just the glory of being number one once more.

The lore behind the story was what initially drew me to this book. I was intrigued after hearing that Maggie Stiefvater drew inspiration from old Celtic legends about water horses, but the fact she was the author also made me hesitate for a long time before finally deciding to pick this up. Now I think she's a great writer, as I discovered for myself after reading her Wolves of Mercy Falls books. The thing is, that young adult trilogy turned out to be not quite what I was looking for with its tale of puppy love and teenage melodrama. It made me wonder if The Scorpio Races would also prove "too YA" for my tastes.

I needn't have been concerned. While it's true that the book's target may be the YA market, the story and the characters in it feel much more mature and serious to me, a lot more so than in Shiver, Linger and Forever. The relationship that inevitably blossoms between Sean and Puck comes off more natural and realistic, with minimal angst and cloying sentimentality involved. Theirs is a deeper romance compared to a lot what I've read in YA fiction, and I think perhaps I feel this way because the story deals with heavier and more intense themes. Ultimately, the book is as much about the people as it is about the horses, and for the most part I really enjoyed it.

Still, there were certain things that prevented me from getting fully immersed. While I applaud Maggie Stiefvater's creativity and imagination when she took a myth and came up with this world with an island and its annual water horse races, there's still a lot about this concept that doesn't sit right with me. I suppose the idea of killer horses is kind of neat, but I have to say the cool detachment with which many of the characters react towards the many deaths is a little baffling. Quite a few people fall prey to the capaill uisce throughout the course of this novel, but there is never much follow-up beyond the initial shock, with the exception of the one funeral we get to see. I get that the festival and the race is big for the islanders, but hasn't anyone wondered if all the maiming and dying is really worth it? And why is Puck's older brother so blasé about her decision to race? Why don't we see more concern from loved ones?

The plot is also quite thin in a few places. For example, I never truly understood Puck's motivations for joining the race. In fact, it was a question she posed herself many times in the book, but none of the explanations offered really worked to convince me. After all, when I think about what people usually do when they are strapped for cash and about to lose their house, signing up for a dangerous and potentially lethal activity you're grossly unqualified for probably isn't the first thing most would do. It's like waking up one morning and endeavoring to be a NASCAR champion and thinking you can handle it even though you know you are only a fair to semi-decent driver. You'd think the logical thing to do would be to exhaust all other options first, and the fact Puck never even attempts to do so still bothers me.

Despite all that, this was still quite good. It's probably my favorite book by this author so far, and I don't regret for a second giving it a chance. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Maggie is a master storyteller and has a beautiful and talented way with words. When it comes to YA fiction, to me she's one of the best.