Note: You will probably appreciate this review more if you've actually read the book.
If I read this book when I was 12, or maybe even 15, it would have been my absolute favorite book of all time. I loved horses and horse racing. I rode for six years, and I dreamed about becoming a jockey. While my attitude about horse racing has changed over the last few years, I still love horses, and I was really excited about this book.
And honestly, as a horse lover, it is very difficult to love this book. This isn't because of the island's practice of capturing flesh-eating sea horses and then attempting to tame them--I don't think Stiefvater intends for her readers to agree with this practice. What bothers me is Puck: On a whim, she decides to ride in a dangerous race, threatening not only her life, but that of her sweet, loyal pony, whom Puck considers her "best friend". (Would you enter your family pet in a dogfight?)
Let me throw this out there: Puck is an idiot. She isn't brave, she is stupid.
But let's forget about Puck for a minute. Let's talk about obstacles. Maggie Stiefvater makes it very clear what the obstacles are: Not only is there a good chance Puck and Dove might be eaten alive, but the fact that Dove is not a capall uisce means that she is laughably slow. Dove is also afraid of the capaill uisce and afraid of water. And Puck thinks that she can overcome these insurmountable obstacles with better feed and a couple weeks of conditioning.
Obstacles are a good thing in books, but they mean nothing if you can just shrug them off at the climax. That makes me feel cheated as a reader.
And the whole "first girl to ride in the races" thing was really unnecessary. The rampant sexism just felt like it was forcing the "girl power!" message (which is ironic, because Puck often repeats that she isn't racing for feminist reasons). It was a cheap way to create antagonism, and it failed to make me care. That, and it felt like a slap in the face to female empowerment. An empowered female isn't one who enters a competition she has no chance of winning, but rather a woman who is actually qualified to win. (Chainmail bikinis, I'm looking at you.)
What did make me care was the capaill uisce. There were scenes where characters or animals died on account of them. A particularly terrifying scene involved Puck and her family facing a hungry capall. That was enough to create tension, without all the sexism.
Maggie Stiefvater's writing style is incredible, and I wish I could have appreciated the story more. I really liked some of the minor characters, especially Finn. I liked Holly at first, but his conversations with Sean became very repetitive. ("Hey, that Kate girl...") The romantic development was both believable and satisfying.
I wish there was more I could praise this book for, but I can think of very little. I enjoyed reading it, but to love this book would require more suspension of disbelief than I am capable of.