Cover illustration by: Nekro
Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pages: 544 pages
Published: 21st April 2020 by Harper Voyager
An exciting and enjoyable standalone fantasy for both adult and young adult audience.
The Queens of Renthia trilogy by Sarah Beth Durst is a series that I occasionally saw but, as usual, I’ve never gotten around to reading it due to out-of-control TBR pile. Race the Sands is a recently published book that suddenly and immediately shot up to the top of my TBR after several trusted friends review; all of them claimed it’s Durst’s best work so far, and the novel would be included in their best book of the year list. This makes Race the Sands my first immersion into Sarah Beth Durst’s work, and it’s an incredibly satisfying one.
“Cultivate kindness. Never steal anyone’s hope.”
Life, death, and reincarnation; Race the Sands is a standalone fantasy about monster racing that utilize karma, family, and overcoming adversity as some of its main themes. Actions have consequences, and in Becar, the culmination of what you do in your present life decides what you’ll become in your next life. With this knowledge in mind, everyone’s destiny is directly influenced by their choices and actions. Those with the most malicious soul, though, would end up becoming a kehok—a savage monster of depravity with no control that’s also used by humans to race—in their next life. Tamra, who now works as a professional kehok trainer, was an elite kehok rider who wants to prevent her daughter from being taken away; to do that, she needs to win the Races. This is where Raia, a girl who ran away from her awful family and arranged marriage, comes into the scene. The story in Race the Sands revolves around Tamra and Raia as they cooperate together to win Races with their newly found kehok.
“This kehok may be a nightmare, but he’s our nightmare.”
In my opinion, one of the greatest things about Race the Sands would be Durst’s natural way of increasing/stacking the stake of the Races. It did take me around 30% of the book to find myself fully hooked by the narrative, but once the first Race begins, I was left in a state where I’m always eager to read the next chapter. I honestly thought that monster racing would be the only driving force of the novel, but I was wrong. There was enough politics, high-speed intrigues, scheming to enhance the strong suit of the storytelling. The drama and revelations, though mostly predictable, were riveting and entertaining. I believe that Race the Sands is an adult fantasy that would also work wonderfully for YA readers. The writing style and topics of discussion that Durst put into her plot—parenthood, trust, loyalty, overcoming adversity, and self-doubts—are notions that are suitable and very easy to empathize with for both teenagers and adult readers.
“Of course, worrying about messing up was the exact thing that could mess her up. But recognizing the paradox didn’t make it any easier to dismiss.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the aforementioned passage. It is not easy to be brave when self-doubts have been entrenched deep in your character, and the more you think about being brave, you usually end up with more fear. Through Tamra—have I mentioned that Tamra is inspired by Tamora Pierce, the author behind Alanna?—and Raia, Durst teaches the importance of living in the moment by writing exhilarating Race scenes. Sometimes, it’s necessary to not reflect on the past or worry about the future; live in the present moment as best as you can. Plus, almost all of the main characters were well-written. For a standalone, it felt to me that Durst has given the world-building enough background and lore for the world to work as a high-fantasy novel, and the multi-POV characters have also been given distinctive personalities and inner voices within a relatively short number of pages.
“Fear can backfire. The one thing that wouldn’t fail you was a belief in yourself, a solid determination that tied you to the moment.”
This novel has garnered many positive receptions from many readers, and they’re well-deserved. Race the Sands is a thrilling standalone fantasy filled with kindness, heart, hope, and bravery to fight injustice. Additionally, animal companionship is one of my favorite elements of stories to have in my reading experience, and this book has it. I’ll close this review with an excerpt from the acknowledgement of this book, which I feel every fantasy readers must read:
“I believe that fantasy is a literature of hope and empowerment. It can serve as a light in the darkness, as a guide towards strength, and as an escape from pain. It is my secret hope that someone will read Tamra and Raia’s story and realize that they can be who they want to be, that they can shape the world, that they can race the sands – and win.”
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)
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