The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater, and other things

Let me start with the story about how I learned about Maggie Stiefvater.

It was November 16, 2014, the last day of the international book fair INSPIRE! (which was the first and the last time this fair happened to my disappoint). For some reason I had ben completely ignorant about the fact that an international book fair was happing in Toronto, so I missed the first days. I doubt I would have been able to go there on the first day, so I was only left with the last day which fell, as I recall correctly, on Sunday.

It was November of last year, it was cold, and I was not feeling well (both physically and emotionally). I went to the book fair in the hopes of it cheering me up, but instead it turned me into a ball of nerves as sellers (even though it was the last day) were still smiling and approaching visitors and I had to again and again say that I was just browsing. (I hate doing that but it was what I was doing as I had no idea about what to expect from the fair.)

I hoped to see some international sellers but most of the languages/countries that I would have been interested in (like Germany) were represented by a handful (basically one or two) stalls. There was Goethe Institut which is a great establishment for learning the language and not what I was looking for. I was looking for an equivalent of Hugendubel or something like that. A vendor that would be selling books in German on spot. Perhaps, I was not very attentive. Perhaps (and most probably it the real reason), I was not in the right mood (state of mind).

I felt exposed, tired, achy.

I realized that I missed the panel of Margaret Atwood (it is my dream to see her in person) and some others. I didn’t know what I was looking for (were I to go today I would know exactly what to look for). I wanted to go to one of the panels but I knew nobody on the list.

Wandering from the food court area I was passing by the main stage and there was a woman there, talking fast and in different voices making the audience erupt in laughter. I stopped, gingerly sat at the far back and for another half an hour I was utterly mesmerized.

That woman on stage, which looked more like a teenager to my short-sighted eyes, with dishivelled hair and some wristbands (that once again from where I sat looked as if she was wearing watches on both hands), spoke about her success, how she learned that her book became a number one bestseller (which she was on the plane and being glared at for using a cellphone by a flight attendant). She was funny and quirky and I looked up her name in the brochure that I had. Maggie Stiefvater. The name that I could barely spell let pronounce (although every time when I think about her name I pronounce it with a German accent in my head). I was captivated.

I wrote down her name, waited till the end of the panel and slinked away. I googled her name, put her books on hold in the library and I discovered that she was on Twitter.

Fast forward to 7 months later.

After months of following Maggie on twitter, I learned that she is incredibly funny, talks about herself in third person, calls her husband LOVER and her kids Thing #1 and Thing #2, bakes, loves cars, drives cars, has goats, and did I mention she is funny?

The wit and sarcasm and joy with which she writes on twitter about mundane things made me very hopeful that her books would be as good. But I couldn’t bring myself to read them, just because I couldn’t bring myself to read anything. I was in that weird dark spell that I have no intention of talking about here, but let’s just say I was just waiting for the right moment.

And the moment came this June, a few days back (a week? 2 weeks?) when I realized that I not only desperately wanted but also needed to go and buy books. The books that I will read. The books that I have been stalling to read for awhile (for whatever unknown reasons). The books that have been out for some time and I still haven’t read. The books that I knew nothing about, except that they are supposed to be good.

So I went to a book store, and dragged my friend there, and spent over an hour in YA section looking for books. Maggie Stiefvater was my number one choice. I didn’t want to start with the series because that would require me to buy all of the books (and what if I didn’t like her writing after all?), so I reconciled with myself and got The Scorpio Races (the book that I knew nothing about and was fascinated to see both a pretty horse on the cover and learn that it was about horses and magic) and Shiver (book #1 in the series which allowed me to have something else to read by Maggie if I did like her style after all). I also bought 3 other books, but I don’t want to talk about them now.

I am  a book hoarder.  I suffer from the condition when I would buy books and then hoard them, meaning I would keep them on my book shelve and won’t read them. Or give them to anyone to read. I am horrible like that.

With The Scorpio Races I decided to plunge in, in spite of having other books from the library (which I were not reading anyway).

I was captivated from the first page. Not only I loved the world, a small rocky island in the middle of nowhere and in an unidentified time, the magical realism of it, I also loved the way Maggie was weaving the words together which reminded myself of my own writing (and this is not me being boastful – it is me hoping that one day I might actually master the words in the way she does it).

Side note: before I read the book I in fact read a couple of posts that Maggie wrote on writing and publishing and the way she spoke about it, the struggle, getting better, working on your writing – it all gave me a huge hope. I read her thoughts on that even before I read her books, which sort of cemented my resolve to do it.

I often think of YA books as books for kids and I am often surprised when they contain blood, gore, death, fear, love, etc. Of course, they are milder than adult books but some moments are rather scary (I am looking at you Harry Potter) and seemingly unfit for kids. (That is me continuously forgetting that 16-19yo are not that much of kids, but I digress.)

Rain, mud, hunger, simple village life, horses, blood and danger spiced with a particular brand of teenaged desperation – this is what The Scorpio Races is about. It is dark enough, moody enough, brilliant enough. It has a very brave girl and a very mature (or desperate, you pick) boy. It has bullying and discrimination and hopes and dreams and the joy of being alive.

Mid book I finally was able to place what that little fictional town of Thisby reminded me of – Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence. I read those books as an adult and was mesmerized by the darkness (literal and figurative) in the books which were supposed to be for kids. The taste of salt on my lips, the wind lashing with rain across my face, the smell of the sea that overpowers everything else. That was what Susan Cooper’s books were about for me, and this was the exact same feeling I got from The Scorpio Races.

I read the book during the week but then devoured the other 2/3 of it over the course of Friday night and Saturday. The raging wind and rain outside helped to set the mood.

Long before the ending I knew the way the races were going to end but I didn’t know how the end would be executed (which having read what Maggie has to say on writing is the exact same way this book is written). I didn’t know how the last paragraph/chapter would be done. I was hoping it would be good.

I was not disappointed.

The last few sentences are the perfect ending of the story, just the way it should be, with the right amount of bittersweet joy and heartbreak. This is how I would have written it if it were my book to write. As a reader, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.

The edition that I have came with extras: a couple of “deleted scenes”, a Q&As with Maggie about the book and her speech that she delivered after receiving an award for this book (in which she mentioned Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising as one of her favourite childhood books , which thrilled me to no end knowing that I was right!), and the recipe for November cakes! (I really need to try that one day.)

I hope against all odds that this novel might get a sequel one day, although I honestly can’t decide if there is anything I want to be added to the story of Puck and Sean and their horses, Dove and Corr.

I am looking forward to reading more of Maggie’s books and, most importantly, I will keep writing and trying to get better. Because as Maggie said, it is not the matter of IF, it is the matter of WHEN.

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