by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: "It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die."
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Review copy picked up at KidlitCon 2011
Life on the island Thisby is not easy. Life is harsh, jobs and food are scarce, and the population is always leaving for a better life on the mainland. And then there are the capaill uisce (pronounced CAPple ISHka; yeah, it doesn't look like that to me, either): bloodthirsty water horses that are caught, somewhat tamed, and raced in the Scorpio Races every November 1st.
For Sean Kendrick, the capaill uisce have become his life. Sure, he works for the wealthiest man on the island at his ranch, but really his heart and soul live for his water horse (in all but actual ownership), Corr. They've raced together and won four times. Who's to day that this year they won't come out on top.
Kate "Puck" Connelly, on the other hand, lives and breathes the island. Her parents were killed by capaill uisce, and she normally would have nothing to do with them. However, her older brother has dropped the bomb that he's leaving for the mainland, and in a desperate attempt to keep him around a little longer, she announced that she's going to ride in the races. On her regular horse, Dove. Suddenly, she finds herself the talk of the island, and discovers that perhaps she's in over her head.
To be fair, this is not a book for the faint hearted. Bloodthirsty, flesh-eating horses does not for a happy tale make. (Kind of awesome, yes. Happy, no.) And yet, in Stiefvater's hands, it isn't a gruesome one. Yes, there's death and mauling and unhappiness, but the book isn't about those things. It's about Puck and Sean, (and, yes, there's a romance between the two, but it's wonderfully understated) and their love of the island and all things that belong there. It's a wonderfully hopeful book, intriguing its twists and turns and subtle use of magic, with a sweetly touching ending.
While it's not quite a delight to read, it is incredibly captivating. Which is just as good, I think.