this book gave me all the good feelings, I was moved, touched at the warmth of the characters, and riveted to see how they would face what came next.
race the sands
by sarah beth durst
She was beginning to understand why so few people even tried monster racing. Constant terror is a bit of a distraction―
sarah beth durst, race the sands
In this stand-alone fantasy, Durst introduces an imaginative new world in which 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, 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.
Where to begin? Do I start from the fact that this was *exactly* the book I was looking for and needed at this point in time? Or do I go for the more objective assessment that this was one hell of a standalone fantasy that practically checked all the boxes?
Yeah, let’s go from there. Standalones that become memorable are very tricky in my opinion; they need to give the right amount of exposition for the reader to both get a solid understanding of this new world/setting/plot and, also have space for the actual story to take place and the characters to flourish.
By the end of a kick-ass novel such as this, you’re both left satisfied with how things are wrapped up, and you crave more time with the characters you grew fond of in just the one book! Durst achieves all this in Race the Sands, with the only reason why this isn’t a full 10 out of 10 being due to my personal preference regarding one plot point, which is highly subjective.
Let’s get to the non spoilery details then, shall we?
Durst has created a very interesting world where reincarnation is not simply believed in, but actual truth that can be proven, analyzed, and impacted on. Thanks to the pure of soul Augurs that can read people’s souls and auras, this society is one where actions have physically proven consequences in how you reincarnate once you die. The worst of the worst come back as the monsters known as kehoks, and they are doomed to remain so for every life to come after that, with no chance at redemption (unless they win the Becar Races).
This whole concept was incredibly fascinating for me and the ethical discourse around it, both in how it is presented in the book, and in how you could discuss it with others in your day to day, makes for fun conversations. Are we truly “good” if we are only self-servingly so in order to come back as something respectable? That is definitely a rabbit hole to get lost in BUT Durst navigates the ramifications of such a society with ease and clarity. This is not a moralizing book for one, and the way in which the author explores how having such knowledge of one’s future impacts an individual is truly amazing.
Moreover, things are never as clear-cut as they seem, and this is where things get juicy! Indeed, there’s clearly loads of political intrigue and maneuvering going on in the background, but just like the ethical discourse, it’s not heavy handed but rather hinted at in simply clever ways through, at times, even seemingly throwaway details.
I simply love this kind of expositing! Added to that, the pacing is superb, making the reader physically feel the ebb and flow of tension and emotions on the page. The chapters are short, and the prose is light and comfortably read/understood, so much so that I barely felt like I was reading. Considering how high strung I’ve been during the day, this was exactly what I needed to wind down my brain before bed. Now I say this, fully cognizant that I was on the edge of my metaphorical seat most of the time, as well as feeling moved and enthralled by the story and the characters.
Speaking of the characters themselves, Durst’s protagonists were each *chef’s kiss*. Leading lady Tamra has joined my pantheon of kickass female characters I strive to be more like, and not just because I too would enjoy racing on the back of a giant lion! She is driven and fierce when the situation calls for it, and her no-nonsense demeanor is one I very much enjoy because it makes for great interactions with the more flamboyant and/or manipulative characters. She is not free of insecurities either but manages to rise above despite them, to care for, protect, and support those close to her.
This is the main trait of all the other point of view protagonists as well, each in their own way – growing from one’s insecurities and fighting through them to reach your goals– is a trope I will never tire of. There is, for me at least, an underlying message to the whole story moreover, which is about the importance of understanding that being strong/independent/driven does not mean that you have to manage it all on your own. Yes, it is important to find all of those things within yourself and fight for them, but it is also important to realize that support from others who care about you and nurture you even in small ways is a good thing to have as well.
One of the main strengths of the found family trope really! As for the character dynamics in general, nothing felt forced or unnecessary, nor did I ever have moments of doubt where I had to sit and think, would anyone really say/do something like this?
Ultimately this book gave me all the good feelings, I was moved, touched at the warmth of the characters, and riveted to see how they would face what came next. This in particular is something I’d point out too; the actual plot in and of itself is nothing convoluted and unpredictable, in fact most things you do see coming (one specific thing aside that I was blindsided by and oh wow) but I don’t mean this as a complaint.
Quite the opposite in fact!! This was a character driven novel that touched on several of my favorite comfort tropes in a way that felt cozy and, in lack of a better word, safe. I saw where this was heading and enjoyed every minute of it because of that! Especially because even if plot wise you have an idea of how things might turn out, firstly you never *really* can know for sure, and secondly, you can’t help but be so taken by how the characters will navigate what comes their way, that you don’t even care if the plot is simple!
On a sidenote, the creatures and the whole ambience of the races etc. would work incredibly in an adaptation!! If it’s a screen one moreover I for one would love to see it made by the same team that worked on Love & Monsters (2020) as they’ve proven they got what it takes to animate monsters amazingly ahahaha.
As I said before, this was *exactly* the kind of book I needed right now, and it has definitely been added to the list of comfort rereads I’ll be coming back to repeatedly in the future.
So other than warmly recommending this incredible book to you dear reader, allow me a moment of fawning over the true MVP in this case, i.e. Sam from The Book in Hand blog, who pointed me to this novel and endured my raving about it as I was reading it! Her recs haven’t steered me wrong yet!
Until next time,
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Eleni is a Greek student who grew up in Italy, and is currently working on getting her BA Honours degree in Literature from a Scottish university! When not typing away for her disseration, she can be found reading all the SFF she can get her hands on, and reviewing it for fun when inspiration strikes and she just needs to share her passion for reading. Alternatively, she will definitely be with a needy Westie in her arms watching series or movies. You can find her writing on her shared blog with her course mate at https://latenightbookscom.