A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Ashes, by Ilsa Bick, one of the most powerful YA books I’ve read lately. I suppose Ashes would be classified as a horror book; I classify it as a Terrific Read.
I might not have picked up Ashes when I first started educating myself about contemporary Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. Fantasy, for instance, has never been a favorite genre. I loved the Harry Potter books but Harry was the exception; Tolkien et al never interested me. Same goes for horror and paranormal, and I’ve stayed away from horse books ever since Ginger died.
Because education is about broadening one’s horizons, I made myself read across the spectrum of MG and YA books, even ones involving fairies (often spelled “faerie” in the YA world), teens with Special Powers, and zombies and vampires and ghosts. Oh my.
To my surprise, some of these books turned out to be a lot of fun. One example: anything by Maggie Stiefvater. I learned about Maggie because we both belong to the same online forum for writers; at the time I joined, Lament had just been published and the sequel, Ballad, came a few months later. Both books tell what happens when your typical ancient Celtic faerie queen targets your typical high school harp player for assassination.
Maggie went from homicidal faeries to werewolves–mostly human-abstaining werewolves, a few rogues–in the wildly popular Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver, Linger, and Forever). My inner twelve-year-old enjoyed them a lot and my inner author was awed at Maggie’s her ability to produce three books in something like four years (I suspect the journey to publication was longer than publication dates suggest).
And then came The Scorpio Races, a Stiefvater stand-alone published last autumn, involving neither faeries nor werewolves but carnivorous horses. I read it over the Christmas holidays and cheered every step of the way.
The other books were fun reads and well plotted, but they didn’t stay with me. Something happened in the writing of The Scorpio Races that turned a story about carnivorous horses into (dare I say it?) literature. It’s rich in characterization, description, depth of theme, and world-building in a way the writing in the other books isn’t. There’s just enough back story to pull you into the universe of the novel and keep you believing in carnivorous horses, and that they live in the cold North Atlantic sea, except when they don’t.
It was one of those books I didn’t want to end, and I ordered it from the bookstore in the village before I’d even returned the library copy.
The Scorpio Races hasn’t generated the planet-wide teen readership of the Shiver trilogy. However, it has won or been short-listed for several major book awards, which I hope will bring it to the attention of readers, singly and in book groups, who might otherwise dismiss it because it’s not one of Maggie’s faerie or werewolf books…or because they think it is.
© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go