This is the 24th book I’ve read in the reading challenge, and I wasn’t even sure I would read it at all. It was a 2012 Printz Honor book and when it won and I read about it I was just not interested. I knew it had something to do with horses and a race, but the cover was unappealing to me (and made me think it was Grecian?). Well, as Paul said, now I must eat crow. Because this book captivated me, impressed me, sucked me in, and I gave it FIVE STARS. I’m going to go so far as to say that I, personally, would have loved to have seen it win the Printz. I just thought it was that good.
The story is set on the small remote island of Thisby. Kate, aka Puck, Connolly loves the island, even though it’s rough going for her and her two brothers ever since their parents died. Sean Kendrick also loves the island, and he too is orphaned. The strange element to the island are the water horses, or “capall uisce” (I found it irritating that it was something like 96 pages in before there was a clue to the pronunciation of this.) The capall live in the sea, but they emerge from it. If you can capture one and control it, it will be the fastest strongest biggest horse you ever ride. However, they are vicious, unpredictable, dangerous, and they yearn for the sea. They can tear a man apart in minutes. Kate’s parents died when a capall took down their boat, while Sean’s father died during the Scorpio Race. This is an annual race where men ride the capall, many will die, and mainland folk come to watch and also to buy horses. Sean works for the main horse farm on the island and he is an indispensable horseman. He rides Corr, a big capall, and has a way with him. Unfortunately, Mr. Malvern owns him and will not sell him to Sean. Sean has won the race 4 times now.
When Kate finds out that not only is her eldest brother going to leave the island, but also that they are going to lose their house, she enters the race. No woman has ever raced before and there are plenty of people opposed.
I found myself desperate for both Kate and Sean to win, but knew that only one could. It’s interesting reading a novel and knowing that the whole thing is leading up to this one event, and it has the potential to be frustrating or boring as you wait for the main event. However, that is not the case here. This book was great-the alternating viewpoints, the growing relationship between Kate and Sean, the vividly realized island, the pull of the magical capall–it all fit together perfectly and was beautifully written. One of the things that’s interesting about it is that although it contains a magical mythological element, I would not in any way consider this a fantasy novel. It was completely realistic.
I absolutely loved this!