It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die. (Prologue.1)
The very first line of the novel does a cracking job of setting a grim tone. This book is definitely going to be more Gears of War than My Little Pony.
Last year a water horse trailing flowers and bells tore a man's arm half from his body. (Prologue.10)
It takes a whole ten paragraphs for Maggie Stiefvater to prove that she wasn't kidding with that first line. She's basically saying, "Boom. Dismemberment. This ain't your grandmother's Black Beauty."
Padgett is beginning to look improbably: something about him is starting to look less like a man and more like meat. (4.40)
Okay, this is a disgusting description, but it doesn't seem to unsettle Sean Kendrick at all. Must be because he's used to the violence of the island.
The mare crouches, shaking her dark quarry. She's ripping it, holding part down with a hoof. The sand pools blood. (8.13)
Not even puppies are safe from the bloodthirsty water horses. This quote isn't about a human casualty, but a dog that got a little too close to the horse's snapping jaws.
End of the first day, the endless first day. The beach has had its share of casualties. (9.3)
Some beaches shut down because of water pollution or the occasional shark attack. In Thisby, bloody bodies from water horse attacks are just the sign of another November.
"It's a war down there." (12.34)
Peg Gratton makes the Scorpio Races seem like the first few minutes of Saving Private Ryan—blood and body parts on the beach, and wondering "is this all worth it?"
There's a snap of blunt teeth, and just like that, his fingers are gone. (15.29)
The horse's teeth may snap, but now this guy won't. And in a book this bloody, he's one of the lucky ones.
"Tell me that again [...] two weeks from now when you've seen the dead bodies on the beach." (33.67)
Sean may not see God in a church, but unlike George Holly, he doesn't see God on the beach either... unless it's a vengeful God. Sean sees death and violence on a daily basis, and there's nothing holy about that to him.
Quick as a snake, Corr's flat teeth crush into his neck. (42.91)
Even Corr, who has been relatively tame for the majority of the novel, is susceptible to his violent nature. When ridden by someone who isn't Sean, he lashes out.
If [Malvern] has touched Corr, I will kill him. (53.28)
Violence begets violence on Thisby, it seems. Malvern uses violence to intimidate Sean by injuring the horses, and Sean plans to retaliate with violence if Mutt gets his angry paws on Corr. It's a vicious cycle.
Finn's eyes wouldn't be so large unless he was certain. (1.23)
Thisby might seem like a nice unassuming island community, but everyone lives in fear and awe of the vicious water horses that emerge hungry from the sea. We can't imagine a tourist brochure ever making us think this is a hot vacation spot.
The horses drag them around like they have no weight whatsoever. What would they do to me? (7.47)
Puck has a little more fear of the capaill than Sean does because she's never known them not to want to tear people apart, whereas Sean and Corr have a relationship that's downright brotherly.
There she is, trotting up to the knee in the water. Fearless. (15.4)
Despite being scared out of her wits, Puck projects a calm, stoic manner. This is Sean talking, thinking she's fearless, when that couldn't be farther from the truth.
[Dove] could've died. (16.5)
It isn't her own life being in danger that instills fear of the races in Puck, it's the fear that she'll lose her pony and best friend, Dove.
I remember the story we're told as soon as we become teens, of the two teen lovers who met illicitly on the beach, only to be dragged into the waves by a waiting water horse. (21.9)
This story was drawn up by the adults to strike fear into the hearts of the hormone-addled children… as if simply growing up on an island where it seems every child's parents have been devoured by horses isn't enough.
I would like to be terrifying. I glower at [Sean]. (23.39)
Puck tries to scare Sean a bit, but someone who has seen men get eaten alive in the ocean probably won't be scared by a mere hard stare.
"Look! Look there! A head!" And despite ourselves, we all look. The water shifts.
I know I should be terrified of tonight and of tomorrow and of the next day, and I am, but I can feel something else, too: excitement. (28.43, 28.60)
Sean has a hard time distinguishing between fear and excitement. The adrenaline rush that comes with certain death motivates him more than it cautions him to stay away.
Sean said, "I want to know who's afraid of the water. I want to know who can track straight. I want to know who will tear Corr apart as soon as overtake him. I want to know how can't hold their horses." (32.23)
Remember when Sean's dad died and Sean believed it was because of fear? Sean tries to scope out the same fear in other racers, hoping to use it to his advantage and overtake them to win the race.
My body warns me of the danger of this capall uisce beneath me, but at the same time it screams that it's alive, alive, alive. (47.30)
Now Puck is feeling the same adrenaline rush that keeps Sean going. There must be something about being that close to certain death that is exhilarating.
"I can't go into his stall like this or Corr will feel this [fear] on me and I might as well not step onto the beach at all." (58.7)
This is a good bit of misdirection on Maggie Stiefvater's part. We know that Sean's dad died because he couldn't control his fear, and here, she seems to be trying to get us to think the same thing will happen to Sean. Your fear mongering won't work on us, Mags.
[Finn] retreats back into the cab and the engine revs high as he shifts gears. (1.14)
Puck isn't the only competitive one in her family; her brother Finn loves to race too, at least when he's in his car. Horses probably scare him.
Sometimes a monger will let you have a horse for nothing on the condition that whatever you win in the race, they get four-fifths of it. (7.39)
An entire economic system has sprung up due to people's competitive nature for the Scorpio Races. There are enough people who don't even own capaill who compete. Who would want to run in the race that badly, and why?
Mum liked to say that some things happen for a reason, that sometimes obstacles were there to stop you from doing something stupid. [...] But when she said it to Gabe, Dad told him that sometimes it just means you need to try harder. (7.49)
It looks like Puck got her competitive spirit from her father. If she were alive, Puck's mom would probably be doing anything in her power to keep her daughter from running in the races.
I hear people at the counter placing bets. (10.16)
The people who aren't brave (or stupid) enough to run in the Scorpio Races have their own ways to compete. Gambling is always a viable alternative to scratch that competitive itch, but those who compete against Lady Luck rarely win.
Mutt was willing to sacrifice [Fundamental] for the possibility that it would hurt me. (20.12)
Mutt is a cutthroat competitor, maybe because he's competing against Sean more for honor and respect than for cash or fame. He'll sacrifice both horse and human to get to Sean.
I know I should let Mutt and Sweeter finish first. [...] It's not even a contest. (25.27, 25.30)
Sean isn't above a little immature show of strength against Mutt, either. He refuses to let his ego get trampled even though they're just showing off some ponies for potential buyers.
"Me on the mare, you on Dove?" (26.41)
We're not sure if Sean races Puck and Dove because he wants the easy ego boost, or if he wants to show Puck how futile it is for her to even try to win.
There's no thrill to this race. No pleasure in such an easy victory. (26.61)
Sean's competitive nature does have an honorable side. He's not one to relish the easy victory, so he must have challenged Puck to a race for her own good, not for his own glory.
For the first time, winning doesn't seem like enough. (30.23)
By the halfway point of the novel, Sean is competing for something other than the Scorpio Race purse: he's competing for Corr's freedom, and for his own.
The beach is not as crowded as I had expected. It's between two of the smaller races, and only the capaill usice who are entered in the next races are on the beach. (60.1)
Okay, it's been sixty chapters but we finally have a quote about the races themselves. For a while there, we didn't think they were going to happen. It seems they're kind of like the Olympics, or a bloodier Wimbledon, with smaller matches early in the day and the big attraction at night.
People say my brothers would be lost without me, but really, I'd be lost without them. (1.1)
The first line of the book shows just how important family is to Puck, although we're not sure if it's true. It seems to us like she's the glue holding her family together.
"Please don't ride her," Finn says, fervent. I can't quite remember the last time he's asked me something and sounded like he really meant it. (8.20)
The only person who tries to keep Puck from riding a water horse is none other than a member of her own family. No one else would care if she were devoured.
What will [Finn] have left if he doesn't have the car to putter over? (19.19)
Family makes sacrifices for each other, and Finn's is a big one. He's not just giving up his favorite possession so that Puck has a chance at winning the race—he's giving up one of his only possessions.
I don't know anything about my older brother these days. (29.5)
As someone who values family above all else, Puck takes it as a huge slight that her brother has been keeping secrets from her. Should he have been more open with her? After all, their parents are dead. The siblings only have each other.
"My great-great-grandfather helped build this pier, and I'm not leaving it." (29.41)
One of the Carroll brothers gives Puck a little taste of his own family history. The families of Thisby likely go back many generations, which is impressive given how many people get eaten by the capaill ever year.
"Hey now, is that our Kate Connolly?" (29.45)
The way a complete stranger addresses Kate as "our" Kate Connolly makes it seem like everyone in the village is part of one big happy family. But the fact that everyone refers to everyone else by their first and last names every time is less than personal. Which is it?
"The blood doesn't always come through," Malvern says. (35.10)
Yeesh. This is a cutting remark. Malvern might be talking about a horse, but the same could also be said about him and his son. He definitely doesn't feel that Mutt lives up to the Malvern name.
I want to keep my sweet, innocent brother the way he is. (37.23)
Puck is super protective of her brother. With his anxieties and nervous tics, we're not sure if that's a good idea or not. But we're not related, so we have a more distant perspective on the matter.
I imagine Dove taken from me in this way, and anger churns in my stomach. (42.38)
Dove is like a family member to Puck. We're not sure if Finn's car is also like a family member to him, since it's not alive and all. It's easier to accept animals than inanimate objects as family members because they blink, move, think, and breathe.
"You really want to prove something to your father, you've got to win against us." (53.46)
If the Malvern family actually behaved like a family, half the bad things that happen in the Scorpio Races might not have happened. Mutt is violent and crazy because he wants his father to notice him more than he notices Sean.
In front of us, there are two seas: one far-off ocean of deep blue and one seething mass of horses and men. All of them are men, not a girl among them. (7.2)
Gathered together like they are, the men almost operate with a sort of hive mentality. We wonder how much gender bias each individual man has? Would they speak out against Puck if they were by themselves?
What say does a girl have in how big her chest gets? (10.14)
Puck seems to be speaking to the entire female gender here, letting girls everywhere know that bust size is not representative of self-worth.
"I'm all for women, but this isn't a woman's game." (10.33)
Peg tells Puck this to get her to quit the races. We're not sure exactly what a woman's game would be. What is a woman's game, Peg Gratton? Bridge?
There's a girl on the beach. (15.1)
That's a complete thought to Sean, and a shocking one at that. Girls don't belong on the beach. The Scorpio Races isn't Baywatch—it's a man's world down there.
I couldn't even make it one day without being rescued. (16.9)
Puck does not want to be the princess in this story. Being rescued is not on her agenda. In fact, it's humiliating, because it's exactly what the guys think will happen to the weak little girl.
[Kate's] odds are 45-1. I wonder how much of that is because of her pony and how much is because of her gender. (30.33)
If we were betting, we'd bet that the horrible odds are mostly because of gender. The men seem to think that women don't know which end of a horse is the front.
"Fifty years ago, it was a man they killed up there, just like every year before. The man who will not ride." (32.29)
Okay, we have two things to say about this: (1) This explains why only men ride in the Scorpio Races. It's a decades-long tradition that has excluded women. (2) Maybe women should be glad, given that by being excluded from the race they're also excluded from the sacrifice.
Finney asks, "Where are your balls?" [...] "You're the one who said I have them, not me." (36.29, 36.31)
Sometimes gender bias make no sense whatsoever. The men don't want a female on the beach, so they insult her by calling her masculine? Does not compute.
I'm simultaneously terrified and humiliated as I hear myself. It's the voice of a scared little girl. (36.35)
Despite not wanting to be called masculine, Puck doesn't want to appear especially feminine either. The last thing she wants is to be perceived as a scared girl. There's no room for fear in the Scorpio Races.
"Do you mean to change the establishment? [...] So you wouldn't say you were inspired by the women's suffrage movement?" (59.7, 59.10)
This is the only time politics ever get explicitly brought up in The Scorpio Races. Does this mean the book takes place around the 50s or 60s, when the women's rights movement was hitting its peak, or is it even earlier?
All entries must train within 150 yards of the shoreline. (12.8)
Puck says the reason for this rule is to keep the water horses from running all over the island, but it also ensures maximum bloodshed between the training participants.
When you traffic in monsters, that's the risk you run, that you'll find one too monstrous to stomach. (15.24)
The Scorpio Races is almost like working with the mafia on a yearly basis. Sometimes a horse comes along that fits into the crazy "loose cannon" mold, and that's where all the drama comes from.
Outside, the Scorpio drummers beat closer, louder, and there is laughter among them. (22.35)
Pretty much everything about the races is dramatic and foreboding. Are there Scorpio kazoo players? No, there are drummers, drumming a beat that gets your pulse racing.
Every year the Scorpio Festival is held a week after the horses emerge. (24.12)
The emerging of the capaill is a seasonal event, like butterfly migration. Maybe the tradition arose as a way to keep their populations under control as well. Not all the capaill survive either.
I think about the Scorpio Festival tomorrow, how the riders' parade this year will be me and Mutt and insane Kate Connolly. [...] "Mr. Holly, nothing about this month is turning out to be normal." (27.11)
If everything was the same year after year, we wouldn't have a book. Drama arises when tradition goes awry, and that's exactly what happens in The Scorpio Races.
"You have to go finalize your registration." (28.15)
The Scorpio Races have a lot of fun traditions—like the Scorpio Festival—but they also have some crappy ones, like paperwork.
"Have you ever made a sea wish before?" (28.20)
There are plenty of superstitions mixed in with tradition when it comes to the Scorpio Races. This one is the equivalent of getting the king cake baby on New Year's Eve.
"It's the riders' [blood]. You'll go up and put a drop of your blood on there to show you're riding." (32.22)
Ah, here are the races's pagan origins coming into focus. We can't imagine many modern-day sports having a blood ritual before they begin.
"There are rules on paper and rules too big for paper." (32.77)
It seems that the rules too big for paper are the rules excluding women from the race. We're not sure of the legality of the Scorpio Races in general, but we imagine it's not a good idea to write down your discrimination tactics.
The truth is, until you know any different, the island is enough. (1.7)
While a lot of people Puck's age might dream of getting away from their hometown, Puck's dream is to stay put on the land she knows and loves. It's kind of like if Harry Potter wanted to stay in the cupboard under the stairs, except his cupboard likely smells better.
I don't actually want the Malvern stables. [...] What I want is this: a roof over my head that is my own [...] and most of all, I want Corr. (11.17)
This might come as a shock to Mr. Malvern because he seems to be grooming Sean (grooming, in a horse stable, get it?) to be his successor. Sean's a lot more reliable than his own son.
I dream of a day when I can turn my back on Mutt Malvern and keep walking. (11.19)
We wonder if Sean would want to stay on at Malvern's stables were it not for Mutt. With Mutt dead at the end of the book, and Puck also working at the stables, do you think Sean will stay?
A tiny, tiny part of me [...] must've been daydreaming of that possibility. Beating the horses that had killed my parents on a pony that I'd grown up on. (12.32)
Puck's main dream when it comes to the races is to earn enough money to save her house. But there's a small part of her that wants the glory that comes with it too, along a tiny bit of revenge as well.
"A roof over my head and reins in my hand and the sand beneath me." (22.45)
Is Sean's dream exclusive to Thisby? It seems like Sean could have this in America with George Holly, if Holly lived near a coast, that is.
"I'd never leave [Thisby.] It's—it's like my heart, or something." (23.73)
Some people, like Puck, view the place they grew up in as their heart. Others, like Gabe, can't wait for a heart transplant. Does Puck have a narrow view of the world, or is she simply able to focus on the positives?
"Has [your wish] brought you happiness?" (30.18)
What do you think Sean's wish was? He never tells us, but he does say that he's been happy enough. We doubt he wished for a million dollars, or to be an astronaut.
"Why do you [stay]?"
"The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr." (33.35-33.36)
Sean's dreams might have been different if he had a family to take care of, like Puck does. But with his dad dead and his mother non-existent, he only has to worry about himself.
"No point seeking the grail if it looks like your teacup." (40.16)
Peg Gratton seems to think a woman's dream is to be pursued by a man. Wrong book, Peg. Puck's dream is to save her home and become independent. Sean is just a nice side dish, not the main course.
"Not everyone wants to leave, Gabe. This is where I want to be. If I could have Dove and my space and a sack of beans, I'd call that enough." [...]
"And that's worth dying for?"
"Yeah, I think it is." (57.13-57.15)
Puck's goals may seem small to some, but she takes them seriously. Do you have something that you'd die for?
"I'll come back next year and you'll have a nest of horses outside your window and Puck Connolly in your bed and I'll buy from you instead of Malvern. That's your future for you." (58.29)
Sounds like George Holly has his own dreams for Sean's future. We're not sure if Sean feels the same way or not—it seems like he'll always care for horses more than people.
"I want to come with you today." (5.19)
Even though Finn thinks Puck is doing something dangerous and stupid by signing up for the races, he still goes with her for moral support. Her other brother, Gabe, does no such thing.
I trust Corr more than any of them.
I should not trust him at all. (9.9-9.10)
Sean and Corr's bond is unusual. People bond with horses all the time, and it's no big deal. But Corr isn't any horse… he's a supernatural creature and from a species that is hardly ever to be trusted. Why does Corr remain so loyal to Sean while the other water horses will turn on their owners in an instant?
"Five years I've kept you alive on that beach. That's what your father asks of me, and that's what I'll keep doing." (10.72)
Loyalty isn't just something that comes with blood relations. In Sean and Mutt's case, Mutt's father has bought Sean's loyalty, and Sean is a good enough guy to stay loyal even though Mutt doesn't deserve it.
"The capaill uisce killed my parents. I'm not going to dishonor them by riding one of the water horses." (16.61)
Here we see that Puck is loyal to the memory of her parents. Later she reconsiders when she thinks that riding a capall is the only way she can win. Do you think her parents would forgive her if she did?
I can't go without Corr. (20.20)
Just as Puck is loyal to her family, Sean is loyal to his. So what if Corr is a different species? He and Sean have practically grown up together, and Sean wouldn't pull a Gabe and leave him behind.
I know what I say dictates who he puts Mutt on this November. I don't want to answer truthfully, but there is no point lying, as he'll find out eventually. (22.55)
Malvern and Sean's relationship is complicated. You'd think Malvern would be loyal to his own son, but he still puts Sean on the fastest horse. Malvern is loyal to one thing—money—and he knows Sean is his best bet at having one of his riders win the races.
"I'll speak for her."
Every face turns to where Sean Kendrick stands a little apart from the crowd, his arms crossed. (32.101-32.102)
This is the moment where Sean puts himself in Puck's camp. By speaking for her at the ritual, he aligns with her and, as a man of his word, Sean will never back out of this deal.
"How do you know there isn't a faster horse than Corr out there?" (33.32)
Sean doesn't care if there's a horse that's faster, or even if there's a horse that could fly, because he's loyal to Corr until the very end.
Those are my horses down there in this beleaguered stable, out there in that fearful night. But at the same time, they are not mine, too. (39.4)
Even though Sean doesn't own Corr and the rest of the horses, he would do anything for them. A lack of money doesn't mean there's a lack of loyalty.
My sense of injustice is truly ringing. (42.30)
Loyalty is like karma in a sense: give it, and you often receive it in return. Here, we see Puck march down the beach to stand up for Sean… something she may not have done had he not done the same for her ten chapters ago.
"Where will you and Corr be?" I ask. [...] "Right next to you and Dove." (52.52)
We get the feeling that Sean and Corr won't just be riding next to Puck and Dove in this year's Scorpio Races… they might just be riding next to each other in life.
Talk of axing someone's job is not a thing to toss around lightly. (10.65)
Mutt Malvern is like Mitt Romney in that way: It's not really funny to him unless someone gets fired.
Not many people on the island have cars. (12.11)
This shows us both how Thisby is pretty small, and also how poor everyone is. They live on an isolated island with little-to-no contact with the outside world. How can that kind of economy survive?
We're both going without better for the same reason. (16.36)
Everyone has to make sacrifices on the island, even the horses. Without enough money to feed the family, both Puck and her horse, Dove, are on a diet. And it affects both their abilities to do well athletically.
"I am here to evict you." (16.46)
Money is a major motivating factor for Puck—not because she wants to be rich, but because she needs it as a simple fact of life. She literally has to pay for the roof over her head.
"I'm not a generous person, Kate Connolly." (16.68)
If Benjamin Malvern ever has to go to the mainland, he'll have a good job as a banking executive. But he is entitled to collect his debts, right? Does he have to be such a jerk about it?
"What do you think [...] about selling the Morris?" (19.3)
Puck is asking her brother to make a serious sacrifice here, without a guaranteed pay off. She's asking him to sell his car and use the money for horse feed. If this book was called The Morris Races, do you think Puck would sell Dove to buy better gas for Finn's car?
This will only buy [Dove] a week's worth of better feed, and use up all of our money. (23.10)
Once again, Puck faces a serious monetary decision: Use the family's savings for horse food, or try to go without. Maybe Finn sells his car just to keep Puck from filching the rest of their savings.
"Principle won't pay the bills." (24.40)
Money makes people do things they don't want to do. In Puck's case, she considers riding on the same type of horse that killed her parents. If she weren't so desperate for money, she'd never even entertain that thought for a second.
"Two hundred." This is dear, but doable. Only just. Only if I can count this year's unwon purse as part of my savings. (43.58)
Benjamin Malvern is pretty unscrupulous. He takes advantage of both Puck and Sean's relatively poverty to get what he wants. He'd have a great job as a banker if the horse breeding business goes bust.
"If you rolled over in your bed, you'd end up in the sink. Every morning is breakfast in bed because there's no floor to speak of." (58.23)
Sean isn't much better off than Puck is, and in some way he's doing worse. At least Puck has an entire house to take care of—Sean's horses have more room in their stalls than he has in his room.
"God's always happy," Finn says. "You're the one who needs pleasing." (2.27)
This is the first mention of God in the novel. It doesn't tell us much other than Puck and her family are people who have religion somewhere in their lives… though it turns out to play not that big of a part.
Red, Father Mooneyham often remarks sadly, like sin. (12.14)
There is quite a paragraph about the Father's red car and how sinful it is. Smells like a symbol to us, although not a very prominent one. What else is red in the novel? (Hint: a horse. Four letters. Starts with C and rhymes with "poor.") Is there a connection?
I haven't been to confession in a very long time. [...] I've done a great many things that I ought to confess. (12.22)
Puck's religious guilt is starting to show. She's not guilty about much, though. Her main source of guilt: thinking mean thoughts about the brother who is going to abandon her and make them lose their house. Sounds justified to us.
"I believe in the same thing they believe in [...] I just don't believe you can find it in a building." (33.7)
Sean and George Holly have a brief religious discussion, and we get a glimpse of Sean's beliefs. He believes God takes different forms and you don't have to spend a couple of hours in a stuffy church every week to see it.
"I can feel God out here." (33.66)
Seems George Holly isn't the type to see God in a church either, but to see God in nature: in the cliffs, in the sea, in the island. Do you think he sees God in the sea horses who tear his friend's faces off?
Now I definitely need to go to confession because I've not only thought dark things about my brother, I've thought them while in Mass. It is slightly uncomfortable to know that if I die in the next few hours, I'll go to hell. (34.4)
Puck carries around a heaping helping of Catholic guilt with her. Religion never seems to have any sort of positive effects for Puck; it only causes her anxiety.
"You're the one who says that God works through us. Maybe he wanted me to stay there and keep holding it." (44.8)
Here is the closest Puck comes to a crisis of faith: Walking away from the man called Prince, and having him die. We're not sure if this is more the result of her religious guilt or because she's the type to take responsibility for anything and everything because she's head of her own household. What do you think?
Gabe had decided when he was fifteen that he was going to be a priest. (44.25)
This is a strange throw-away fact. How does it affect your perspective on Gabe's character? Sounds like he's the type to abandon things frequently: God, his family… What's next?
He absolves me. I feel absolved. (44.32)
Puck practically begs Father Mooneyham to give her penance for her sins. If she's looking for absolution in name only, did she really feel that bad to begin with?
[The stable is] awesome in the way that St. Columba's is. It has the same high ceiling, the carved stone, the carried sounds. (45.12)
Horse racing could very well be considered a religion on Thisby, and from Sean's description of Malvern's stables, those are basically hallowed ground.