The Scorpio Races

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Scorpio Races Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Bloodthirsty horses star in thrilling coming-of-age tale.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 17 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a bit about horses and their care, and may be inspired to learn more about water horse legends.

Positive Messages

Bravery, determination, and hard work propel Puck and Sean. The twin narratives reveal how our self-image often doesn’t match our outward appearance: Puck, for example, often feels foolish for being so precocious, but Sean and others see her as fiery. Sean and Puck ultimately show how rivals can still be partners, even when their goals are mutually exclusive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The women -- including Puck -- are quirky, strong, and full of surprises. Puck is petulant and impetuous, but others readily see her courage and determination. She doesn’t act out of any feminist impulse but sets a fine example in character that puts the men around her to shame. Sean is less showy but still a fiery spirit. There’s an assortment of nasty, unpleasant peripheral characters, but most of the secondary characters demonstrate great integrity.


The water horses are predatory, bloodthirsty creatures: During training, in races, and in between they are quick to attack and kill -- several characters are brutally slain by capaill uisce. A bully threatens and harasses his rival, attempting to orchestrate his death and others. He also cruelly maims a horse. Both of the main characters lost parents in attacks by water horses.


There’s some innuendo, but little beyond kissing. One adult character appears in a hotel with rumpled clothes and lipstick on his collar. There are intimations of other sexual relationships and a bit of kissing, but it's generally tasteful. Some characters comment on a woman's chest size.


Some salty language is peppered throughout, including "bastard," "piss," "balls," and "tits."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A festival scene features a drunken crowd, and a few characters drink to excess in a bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this 2012 Printz Honor Book is an action story about killer horses by the author of Shiver -- and there’s a lot of killing. Parents are snatched from boats; riders are grabbed by the throat, torn to pieces and trampled; islanders are menaced by mystical beasts that come from the sea. The violence is never gratuitous and often is tempered by touching moments of humanity: holding the hand of a man as he dies, joining a family at a funeral pyre for a slain teen, setting aside disputes to try to save the life of an endangered rival. The romantic thread is more about kindred spirits than physical attraction.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byabbacus March 25, 2014

Wow, wow, wow!!!!

This book was incredible! It is one of my favorites that I've read in a long time! I loved the characters, the messages, the pacing, the story and mytholog... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 24, 2012


It is a great book!!!! It says piss alot tho. BUT ITS STILL AWESOME!
Teen, 13 years old Written byNicole29 March 18, 2021

Best book I've ever read!

This is my absolute favorite book and probably always will be! Also being a horse lover makes this book even more enjoyable, though I have friends that don... Continue reading

What's the story?

As November nears, the fierce water horses surge out of the sea onto the beach at Thisby. Tourists flock to the island as the locals try to capture and train the dangerous capaill uisce (water horses) for the Scorpio Races. Four-time champion Sean Kendrick lives to ride his stallion and knows well how deadly the races are, but this year he has even more than his life at stake. Puck Connolly lost her parents to the capaill uisce a year earlier. Afraid of losing her older brother to the mainland and her family home to the lender, she signs up to race on her own mare. As the first woman ever to enter, she’s met with hostility -- until she forges an unlikely friendship with her rival, Sean.

Is it any good?

Maggie Stiefvater serves up a terrific mix of action, magic, and romance that defies neat categorization into any one genre. It’s a fantasy horse story for teens who hate both fantasies and horse stories: The pulsing danger of the capaill uisce (water horses) is seductive. The narration shifts between Puck and Sean, both strong and appealing voices. The two perspectives together paint a vivid portrait of Thisby and the solid supporting cast. Stiefvater’s Thisby is the kind of place readers want to get lost in: She drops so many intriguing hints into the lives of the secondary characters, you wish you could follow them a bit more too. The American Library Association named Scorpio Races a 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for excellence in literature for young adults.

The story is a thrill ride, so much so that the romance sneaks in quietly. Sean and Puck, both headstrong and fierce in their own distinct ways, are classic heroes who’ll resonate with independent-minded teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence throughout the book. Is it used effectively, or is it over the top? How would the story be affected if the author scaled back the description of the violence? Do you find the violence incongruous with the romantic elements, or do they work together?

  • How would you classify this novel? Is it a fantasy? A romance? A thriller? An adventure tale?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

Themes & Topics

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