Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Scorpio Races and Grave Mercy

Carnivorous horses and assassin nuns: what's not to like! (I'm actually very mild-mannered and I hate conflict. Really, truly.)

I have to start by confessing that I'm not a huge Maggie Stiefvater fan. At least, I wasn't until now. The Scorpio Races grabbed me with its sharp teeth and carried me out to drown into a stormy sea. Everything about this book was vivid and compelling. The island, with its scent and its storms and its modern mask over an ancient culture revolving around the water horses. The capaill uisce themselves, terrifying, unpredictable, horse-like but so not horses. (They were so convincingly frightening that I had trouble believing that Puck would actually race them--my one quibble about the plot.) I loved the two characters who alternate telling the story: mysterious, skilled, respected-but-not-liked Sean, and fierce, desperate, angry Puck. I loved the romance, nicely understated and full of conflict, because they both really need to win.

The Scorpio Races is about carnivorous horses who come ashore only on this island and are captured for the annual race, which has mythic significance beyond what the tourists recognize. But really it's about the people, their relationship to the horses, to the island, and to each other. No, that sounds boring. It's about  dreaming, longing for something that is denied. It's about taking huge risks and making huge sacrifices. No, that doesn't adequately convey it. I can't really explain what it's about. It just oozes with atmosphere and intensity. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautifully. Her previous novels (about werewolves and fairies) just weren't that interesting to me, but this one was meaty and satisfying. Steak and mushroom pie.

Assassin nuns. I have to say it again, because, really. Why has no one else come up with this concept? (Maybe they have and I just don't know about it: if so you have to tell me what I've been missing!) Grave Mercy is Robin LaFevers first book about girls from the convent of St. Mortain, otherwise known as Death. They are trained to be His Fair Assassins and carry out his will, which appears to be saving Bretony from those treacherous French, so once Ismae is trained in all the cool ways there are to kill people she gets to dress all pretty and sneak around court looking for spies to assassinate. I liked the idea of Mortain. I liked the spying, the girl kicking the butt of arrogant men, the romantic tension between Ismae and the guy she doesn't know if she can trust. Grave Mercy was entertaining--not as good as Sherwood Smith or Megan Whalen Turner, but along the same lines. I think there is a lot of potential in the premise that LaFevers can still explore, so I'm going to read the next book in hopes that she does more with the depths that Grave Mercy hints at. This book was a mocha cream puff.

In the meantime, I had to go and reread Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, because she does such a good job of the romance between people who don't trust each other. And because it's just so good. And then I had to read more Sherwood Smith, so I downloaded the Inda books. When I emerge, gasping, into the real world again, I'm going to devote a whole post to Sartorias-delas.


  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE The Scorpio Races. It's definitely my favorite of all of her books. So rich in imagery: you really felt you were there, on that island. The horses were frightening, no doubt about that. But such a gorgeous story and setting.

    Grave Mercy was beautifully written but I didn't love it as much. I felt it bogged down after a while and became too much about the romance. That was one of the things I loved most about Scorpio Races; that the romance, although handled well, wasn't the most important part of the book.

    Interesting to compare the two! Nicely done.

    1. Yes, I definitely prefer the Scorpio Races version of romance. Which is why I liked Crown Duel so much. The MC doesn't even know she's in a romance until it's almost too late! (She's too busy saving the kingdom.)