The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, is about a girl named Puck and a boy named Sean, living on an island called Thisby where the capaill uisce—horses from out of the sea that devour human flesh—are caught and raced. Both have desperate need to compete in the races and win, but in the annual November races, not everyone survives.
Sean is the son of a racer who was killed by the water horses. He enters the races to be with Corr, the red capaill uisce he rides but that does not belong to him.
Puck is recently orphaned, and without the prize money she doesn't know how to care for herself or her family. She's the first girl to enter, and the only rider racing on an ordinary horse.
I picked up The Scorpio Races on a whim, not knowing what to expect. I recognized Maggie Stiefvater as “the author of that werewolf series,” but wasn't familiar with any of her other work. To my pleasant surprise, The Scorpio Races was the most beautifully-written book I'd read in a long time. I frequently found myself noticing a perfect analogy or a beautiful line of description. None of the writing felt tired or mundane. The book impressed me enough that I expect I'll seek out more of her work in the future.
As for the story, it was compelling and developed at a good pace. I never felt that the relationships between characters were rushed. Their actions made sense, and Maggie Stiefvater made good use of the tension she'd created through the conflicting desires of her cast of characters.
Most of all I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book. There's a wild magic in the ocean, and this book captured the untamability of the sea. The island was as fully developed as any of the characters, and the water horses demonstrated perfectly how one can fall in love with danger, but must respect it or be consumed by it.
Bottom line: Good books always leave me inspired, and this one has inspired me to work all the harder on crafting the language in my books. It's a beautiful story too, and not to be missed.