RACE THE SANDS by Sarah Beth Durst (Book Review)
Race the Sands was something I had never encountered before. It was set in the desert nation of Becar, a nation that believes in re-incarnation and races dangerous monsters called kehoks as a national pastime. Eat your heart out baseball, I loved the premise immediately. Another thing I loved was that this story focuses on three strong female characters.
Raia is our young protagonist, a girl who ran away from her family to try and achieve a different life by becoming a kehok rider. Becoming a rider to race the dangerous kehoks—which are monstrous chimeras—is a dangerous career with a high risk of death. But kehok riders are also famous heroes of the people and well-paid. Tamra is our mother-figure, someone wiser and more experienced than Raia. Tamra is now a trainer to kehok riders after an accident ended her racing career. She has a more complicated backstory than Raia, and has a daughter who features heavily in the overall plot. Lastly, we have Lady Evara, who I really didn’t like much at first. But she grew on me, and as the financier of the whole plot to bring Raia to the largest kehok race of the nation, has more wit than I first gave her credit for.
The key to the plot is the belief of the Becaran nation in reincarnation. The society is heavily dependent on priest-like councilors called augurs, who are able to read the state of a person’s soul and determine what they will be re-incarnated as. A good life will let you be reincarnated as a noble beast, such as an eagle, while those with impure souls might be bugs. Only the most vile, those with black hearts, become kehoks. So when the old emperor dies, and his new re-incarnation fails to be identified, it is no surprise that no one looked among the kehoks for his soul.
I won’t say anything else about the plot, but I was a fan of the fresh worldbuilding in this book. I loved the premise of the augurs guiding people and serving as trusted confessors-slash-councilors. There is a fair bit of political maneuvering in this book (what do you expect when it is the late emperor people are looking for?) but it is easy enough to follow. The story is original and the writing clean.
4/5 stars. I would recommend this book to fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
P.S When you buy this book, be sure to glance at the dedication and then read the Acknowledgements. It will make you smile.