Title: Race the Sands
Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Page Length: 544
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Synopsis: In this standalone fantasy, a pair of strong and determined women risk their lives battling injustice, corruption, and deadly enemies in their quest to become monster racing champions.
Life, death, and rebirth—in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.
Unless you can win the Races.
As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra needs the prize money to prevent the local temple from taking her daughter away from her, and that means she must once again find a winning kehok . . . and a rider willing to trust her.
Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.
Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win—if he can be tamed.
But in this sport, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races—and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.
In the land of Becar, fear for your immortal soul is at the forefront of every decision. If you are honorable and moral, you’re reincarnated into something good, but if your soul is tainted, you’re reincarnated into a kehok, a terrifying and murderous mix of ferocious animals that race in high-stakes competitions.
Tamra is an ex-rider-turned trainer who has hit a run of bad luck. Desperate to pay for her daughter’s elite training, Tamra trains Raia, a young woman determined to escape from her harsh family and an unwanted engagement. The two women work together with a rare and formidable kehok in the hopes of winning and securing their future. A well-developed, well-paced story, Race the Sands is an exciting and immersive read.
Tamra is a dynamic protagonist. She feels a ton of pressure in a world where she is considered “less than.” Paying for her daughter’s training and her livelihood is on the line, but Tamra is strong, determined, and relentless. She is also rash and uncompromising which proves detrimental, especially when directed at the wealthy and elite. Though Tamra feels the weight of her role in society, she doesn’t conform easily.
I love the relationship between Tamra and her daughter. She is proud of Shalla and will do anything for her. Shalla is her motivation and what propels Tamra to do better and be better. Though Tamra had a difficult upbringing, she is not a victim. I love the valuable lessons Tamra teaches her daughter about self-worth, love, and family.
One of the other strengths of the story is the amazing world Durst created. The cultures, religious beliefs, societal expectations and more are skillfully explored and developed in a way that enhances the story and creates a vivid, defined and unique fantastical world.
Another fascinating aspect of the story is the political intrigue. Prince Dar must ascend the throne after the death of his brother, but he must locate the vessel for his brother’s soul before he can take the crown. Unfortunately, his search is fruitless, and without a leader, Becar is descending into chaos. People are questioning those in power, and neighboring kingdoms become problematic. The prince, in searching for his brother’s soul among the kehok, starts to question all that he knows to be true. The way that this part of the story unfolded is clever and offers thought-provoking questions about everything the society is built upon.
This is an interesting and immersive story with strong female protagonists, impressive world-building, and fascinating political intrigue. Messages of strength and resilience in the face of adversity permeate the story. Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishers for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
- The well-developed characters, especially the main characters. The narration switches between Tamra and Raia, so you get an interesting view of their perspectives.
- The amazing world-building. It’s immersive, interesting, and unique.
- The political intrigue. Fascinating!
Readers who enjoy stand-alone fantasy stories with strong female protagonists and awesome world-building will enjoy this book.