Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
Life, death, and rebirth – in Becar, who you are in this life will determine your next life. Yet there is hope – you can change your destiny with the choices you make. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and are doomed to be a kehok for the rest of time. Unless you can win the Races. After a celebrated career as an elite kehok rider, Tamra became a professional trainer. Then a tragic accident shattered her confidence, damaged her reputation, and left her nearly broke. Now, she 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 needs 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 (from Goodreads).
My Rating: 5 Stars – ★★★★★
Before reading this, I was already a big fan of Durst’s adult fantasy novels. She wrote the Queens of Renthia trilogy, which is absolutely fantastic and highly underrated. When I learned about Race the Sands, I was thrilled to see that she released a new book. As you can tell by my 5-star rating, I was not disappointed!
Race the Sands is a stand-alone adult fantasy. When it comes to the fantasy genre, it can be overwhelming to want to read a book when it means committing to an entire series. You do not have to worry about that here! Race the Sands contains an entire story arc that is completed in this one book.
I think these stand-alone fantasy books are so rare because it is difficult for many authors to properly build a world and tell a complete story in one book. This is not an issue when it comes to Race the Sands. The world-building is phenomenal. Durst creates a unique and fascinating world that feels fully developed in just one book. We get monster racing, reincarnation, augurs who read auras, and a land that needs an emperor all in one story. This sounds like a lot going on, but Durst manages to weave all of these elements to fit perfectly together.
At the beginning of the book, it seems as if the story will be about Tamra and Raia’s journey to try to win the races. While this is a part of the book, there is much more at play. Durst utilizes the third-person limited point of view, changing from character to character, which gives the reader a well-rounded understanding of the plot. After the first few chapters, there are a couple of new perspectives that add more layers to the story. The political intrigue, one of my favorite aspects of the book, is introduced and sets the rest of the plot in action.
Beyond the plot and world-building, I also loved the characters in this novel. The leading roles are strong female characters. Not strong in the way we often see where the heroine is a great warrior who declares all things feminine weak, but in ways that feel genuinely human. Tamra is a former champion turned trainer as well as a fiercely protective mother who will do anything to prevent her and her daughter from being separated. Raia is a teenager who has faced rejection her entire life, not only from her selfish family but from the augurs, who claimed she was one of them only to throw her out. Now, Raia is committed to creating a life for herself that is separate from the abusive man her parents insist she marry for their monetary gain. These women are not warriors or secret royalty, but their determination will help them do things they could never have imagined.
Although this is marketed as adult fantasy, I believe readers of YA fantasy will enjoy it as well. All of the content could exist in a YA book, the main difference being it is longer and slower-paced than most YA. I absolutely recommend this book to fans of fantasy with strong characters, unique world-building, and political intrigue.