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Race the Sands

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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.

528 pages, Paperback

First published April 21, 2020

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About the author

Sarah Beth Durst

35 books2,534 followers
Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of over twenty fantasy books for kids, teens, and adults, including Spark, Drink Slay Love, and The Queens of Renthia series. She won an ALA Alex Award and a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for SFWA's Andre Norton Award three times. She is a graduate of Princeton University and lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. For more information, visit her at sarahbethdurst.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 710 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,945 reviews291k followers
July 8, 2020
Call it what it is: monster racing.
Forget that, and you die.

This book was everything I wanted. Ever since I read Durst's The Queen of Blood in 2016, I've been saying that she's a seriously underrated author... but this book? Wow, she just took it to a whole new level.

And the silly thing is-- I'd been putting it off. Monster racing sounds kinda badass, but it also doesn't quite grab me in a "need to read" way. I love character drama and emotional investment. I love relationships and political machinations and backstabbing and betrayals and surprises (and I can't play or follow sports to save my life). But Race the Sands had all of that. Yes, there was monster racing, but that is only a tiny fraction of what this book is about.

Becar is a richly-drawn fantasy world where souls are reborn again and again, and how well you nurtured your soul in your previous life dictates what form it will be born into in your next. If you were good, told few lies, and generally made the world a better place, you could be born as a human or a higher class of animal like a monkey or a tiger. If you didn't, you may be born as a cockroach. But the worst fate of all, reserved for the most irredeemably bad souls, is to be reborn as a kehok.

Kehoks are vicious monsters, incapable of reason or empathy. Their main use in this world is as racers, trained and controlled by riders brave enough to compete. Tamra was one such rider, until an accident left her with a physical disability. Now she trains others to ride the kehoks. When her financial situation gets so bad her daughter may be taken away from her, she knows the only solution is to win the championship and the monetary prize. But first she has to find a kehok and a rider who can do it, and time is definitely not on her side.

While this is happening and Tamra is finding Raia and the mysterious metallic lion who will race with her, trouble is brewing in the Heart of Becar. I don't want to give too much away, but protests have broken out and it seems that many people may be lying and scheming. The new emperor-to-be, Prince Dar, is unintentionally sowing doubt in Becar's citizens.

I loved the politics of it all. The underhanded goings-on and the moral questions being raised. In this society, augurs are religious figures-- the only ones who can see your soul and the path you are on --and so everyone reveres and fears them. "Good intentions" are held up as the ideal, the purest way to live, but as the book shows, a lot of terrible things can be done under the banner of "good intentions". Fascinating.
“Do you understand, my star? I would destroy the world for you.”

The characters were fantastic, especially all the amazing women, which seems to be what Durst does best. Tamra is the best mum EVER (except my own, of course) and I felt that Raia was a deeply-sympathetic and tough character. I was also very pleasantly surprised by Lady Evara. She seems like a standard bitchy rich lady character in the beginning, but she becomes a much-needed source of comic relief. I love it when characters are more than I first expected.

And that climax was so SO satisfying. I think I may have said "OH HELL YES" out loud. What a fun, fast-paced, hard-to-put-down book, with MCs who all have slightly damaged souls, which is how I like 'em. It's adult fantasy but totally suitable for YA readers, too. Slight warning for some "animal" cruelty-- i.e. beating racers to make them faster; it is NOT viewed as a good thing.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
663 reviews41.1k followers
June 9, 2020
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)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Devin, Hamad, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
719 reviews1,169 followers
April 23, 2020
I loved everything about Race the Sands! Hooked from the very first page, the interesting character profiles is what struck me first. Tamra had a great backstory: she’s a highly skilled trainer (old injuries keeping her from competing in the kehok races herself), and an incredibly badass character (with enough flaws to make her realistic). Both she and the other characters had great motive from those backstories – compelling enough to sustain the whole plot. Very well done.

Characters aside, I love books that incorporate training or education in a skill not found in our world. In this case, it was kehok riding (kind of like horse racing, but on wicked chimeras). The training wasn’t the forefront of the story, but it was incorporated often enough to satisfy my cravings for it. It all took place in a desert world where the people revolve their lives around a reincarnation-based religious structure. It was a cool concept. I’ve seen similar frameworks in other stories, but often the reincarnation ends up being a false belief. In this world, those who die really are reborn according to how they lived their lives. It added an interesting dynamic to an already cool plot. I loved every moment. It’s not the most sophisticated fantasy I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely one of the most fun.

I like Durst’s writing style. She’s telling stories robust enough for an adult market, but her characters and overall presentation are accessible enough to appeal to the YA crowd. When I first read Queen of the Blood (book #1 in her Renthia series), I initially thought it was an elevated YA novel… meaning I liked it, lol). Her main influence is Tamora Pierce, and you can definitely see that in this work. The writing itself is beautifully done – she has an exhibition of page hooks at the end of her chapters that are superb enough to be noticeable…. they made the book hard to put down.

Durst’s storytelling really sings to my soul. In the acknowledgments section of Race the Sands, she talked about what sparked her love for fantasy and shaped her journey as a writer – both of which I found personally inspiring as I look at my own budding career. It motivated me to dust off my manuscripts and continue chasing my goals. This section in particular jumped out at me:
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 the can shape the world, that they can race the sands – and win.

I’ll never forget the profound impact her words had on me. It’s awesome when books can influence your life beyond just reading and reviewing.

Recommendations: Race the Sands was an incredibly fun book that will appeal to both adult fantasy fans looking for something lighter and YA fans looking to pick up something more robust. And to add to its recommendability, it’s a stand-alone novel, so you can pick it up without huge commitment. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in a while, and I can’t wait to share it with peeps I know are going to love it too.

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
Joust (Dragon Jousters, #1) by Mercedes Lackey Alanna The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1) by Tamora Pierce Ashlords by Scott Reintgen Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (The Song of the Shattered Sands, #1) by Bradley P. Beaulieu Court of Fives (Court of Fives, #1) by Kate Elliott
June 17, 2020
Q: How does one live a moral life and still live in reality? (c)
Q: “Inside I am screaming,” ...
“Inside we all are.” (c)
“So I’ll be a fish. Or a bird. Or a cricket. Or whatever. Does it matter, so long as I’ve done the best I can?...
Death erases all we are and all we were. So the past and the future? They don’t matter as much as what you do in the moment. In every moment. ” (c)

A lovely world. Comes complete with social tensions, meddling parents, floating gardens, weirdish imagery, reincarnation, kehoks and riding them...

These people love their morals. No, they spend a large chunks of their lives trying to better their souls. Must be interesting.
He felt almost excited. At last, here was an action he could take that wasn’t morally problematic! (c)

Other nice stuff:
She was speed. She was wind. She was a sandstorm. (c)
“Run!” she shouted at the two riders. “That’s all that matters! That’s all that exists! You are nothing but the sand beneath the hooves, the wind in your face, the sun on your back. You are this moment. Feel the moment. Feel the race!” (c)
The augurs preached that you could improve the quality of your soul by your choices, and thus grant meaning to your current life and hope for your next. (c)
Kehoks liked no one, because they loathed themselves. (c)
... the more stubborn you were, the better control you would have. (с)
She wished she could peel away everything else and just focus on this: a race. Just her and a monster that she understood and could control, rather than the monsters who wore human faces and believed they were purer of soul than she. (c)
Says something about my life that I’m more comfortable being with monsters... (c)
... the familiar constellations: the Crocodile, the Emperor’s Robe, and the Lady with the Sword. (c) Some interesting sky they've got in this world.
The youth can be confident because they don’t know how many doors are closing with each passing day. The youth had the illusion of limitless possibilities... (c)
She was, though, excellent at reading monsters. (c)
Best part about traveling with a deadly monster, Tamra thought, is you don’t have to chat with idiots. (с)
You needed a fire inside you, the kind that kept you passionately invested in the here and now, the kind that made you want to shape what was happening rather than letting it shape you. (c)
He’d learned from experience that if you walked with purpose, it exponentially increased the odds that you’d reach your destination. (с)
“With all due respect, my husband claims my singing can curdle milk and cause dogs to drop dead in the street.”
“Excellent. Then sing very loudly.” (c)
Better a tarnished soul than a dead friend. (c)
Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be. (c)
“I don’t know if I’m ready,”...
“Of course you’re not. But it’s okay, because there’s no such thing as ready... There’s only the moment and what you do with it.” (c)
Carefully, he began to widen his thoughts. It felt a bit like listening to all the musicians and seeing all the brilliantly painted buildings at once, except he wasn’t listening with his ears and he wasn’t looking with his eyes. He began to see blurred colors flickering within the people around him. (c)
Maybe stability and peace were flimsy things that had to be nurtured and protected. (c)
... the augur temple of Peron was built to appear impressive and intimidating. And it succeeded wildly. Built of blue stone and edged in gold, it gleamed in the sun. Multiple cupolas with golden points looked as if they were about to etch words on the sky. Many gleaming white archways echoed the curves of the surrounding hills. Through the arches, you could see both the hills and the desert beyond, stretching into the distance. It made it seem as if the temple contained the world. (c)
“I am uncomfortable with the ethical ramifications of the word ‘bribe’... ”...
“You will be consoled with monetary comforts in recompense for your pain and suffering.” (c)
“He might have a new whim every day,” Raia said, warming to the idea. “Start a zoo. Build a university. Collect bells. Or birds. Or musical instruments.” (c)
People should be good because it’s right, not because an augur tells them it’s what they should do. (c)
Either this is a sign that I’m doing things very right . . . or you’re doing things very wrong. (c)
As much as I love surprises, perhaps there’s something we could do to minimize the effectiveness of our next aspiring assassin (c)
This isn’t a trial... This is a riot. You don’t need proof. You only need gossip. (c)
I make my own destiny and determine my own worth.
And I am worth quite a lot. (c)
Profile Image for Choko.
1,177 reviews2,568 followers
May 11, 2020
This was a very enjoyable and engaging young adult fantasy about a world where reincarnation is very real and depending on what you do and stand for in life, you end up as all types of animals and insects. However, if you have been really good, you get to be reincarnated as a human again, while if you weren't, you come back as a monster, the lowest of the low and usually with no hopes for better faith in your future lives... One of the pastimes of this world's populous is betting on races of people riding those monsters, the biggest thrill being the very tenuous control the riders have on the monsters and the constant threat of loss of control leading in the best case to a very bad injury, and worst case all contestants and most of the monsters murdered, blood and mayhem...

The world building is very good and the story is very easy to read. The characters are likable, the monsters imaginative, and you really get behind the main characters, rooting for them wholeheartedly! However, this is very much written for a young adult audience, by which I mean the author tends to make sure that we understand absolutely everything she intended us to know. By this I mean she shows and tells us what is going on. The author still does a great job to get you involved, and honestly sometimes it is a pleasure to read a book that doesn't keep you constantly on your toes and questioning which characters to trust and which not. It was a breath of fresh air! I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, that is for sure!

I will recommend it to all readers and fans of lighter Fantasy, young and old alike!

Now I wish you all happy reading and may you always find what you need in the pages of a good book! 🙂
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,004 reviews2,595 followers
May 4, 2020
5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2020/05/04/...

I’d be shocked if Race the Sands doesn’t end up topping my list of favorite reads at the end of the year. I mean, I’ve been following Sarah Beth Durst for a while and I love her work, but wow, she’s certainly outdone herself this time. There’s literally nothing I disliked about this book, a spectacular effusion of excitement, adventure, and really wild things!

Welcome to Becar, a world where reincarnation exists. While those with good, clean souls can be rewarded by being reborn as humans, only the purest of the pure can become augurs, gifted with the ability to read the auras of others and determine their fate. Individuals with flawed auras can expect to reincarnate as animals—a jackal, a turtle, or a bird perhaps—and those whose souls are more corrupted might even end up a slug. All you can do is hope that your next life will give you a better chance at changing your fate.

That said, for the evildoers whose crimes are so unforgivable that their spirits are forever tainted, there is no redemption. These wretched men and women are cursed to come back as kehoks—chimeric monsters whose forms combine the traits of many different aniemals—and forever after, they will never be reborn as anything else. Their only chance at breaking this cycle is a special charm, created by the augurs and gifted to the champion of the kehok races that all of Becar flock to see each year. While it is impossible to completely tame a kehok, gutsy individuals who are bold and determined enough can impose their wills on these beasts long enough to ride them and compete in th races, earning fame and fortune too if they win.

Tamra Verlas used to be one these champion riders, her name known to every fan. Although she is now retired from the racing scene, she still trains riders for the money to put her young daughter through the expensive augur training at the temple. However, an unfortunate incident with one of her students last season has all but ruined Tamra’s reputation, forcing her to scout her own rider and kehok to enter in the races. She ends up finding both at the market—a fearsome lion-like kehok, freshly captured by a hunter, as well as Raia, a young runaway who needs a place to lie low from her abusive parents. Raia has never ridden a kehok before, but she is desperate for a job, and Tamra is also desperate for a new student.

Meanwhile, an undercurrent of anxiety threatens the future of the realm as the royal augurs have thus far been unable to locate the reincarnated soul of their late emperor, resulting in the delay of his successor’s coronation. Without a leader, Becar is vulnerable to attack from its enemies, who are even now readying their armies to invade. But while it may be unthinkable, and sacrilegious to even suggest it, there could be another explanation why the palace has been having trouble finding the emperor’s current incarnation. After all, while the augurs can be thorough in surveying all creatures, they would never look to a kehok for the soul of their illustrious emperor, whose aura should not have been so corrupted. In the end, only one courageous augur named Yorbel is willing to go against the grain and put a theory to the test.

Truly, my absolute love for this book cannot be contained! I’ll start with the premise and the world-building, which made this book so delightful and captivating. While familiar tropes abound in Race the Sands, Durst’s talent is to write them in a way that made it all feel new and fresh. Racing motifs feature prominently, obviously, but there is also the theme of the disgraced trainer who needs to make a champion out of an inexperienced rookie, as well as a good dash of the sort of creature/rider bonding trope you would find in Temeraire or How to Train your Dragon. Set to the backdrop of the desert world of Becar and the spiritual beliefs of its people though, these ideas and concepts are given new life. The author also adds a few twists of her own so that the direction of this tale as well as its resolution will contain plenty of surprises.

Speaking of which, the storytelling was superb. I’ve always appreciated the crossover appeal of Durst’s books, and Race the Sands also has that same quality, written in an easy flowing style that will make YA fans feel right at home while not turning off readers of adult fantasy. Of course, the novel’s characters also help with this, since we have one protagonist in her teens, and another in her middle-aged years who is a mother to boot. Both are well-written and impressively developed, portrayed with their individual motivations, genuine personalities, and in-depth backstories. In particular, I want to give a nod to the way the author depicts motherhood, and in her books I’ve read that feature mom protagonists (the Queen of Renthia series, for example), they are always strong, ferociously protective and loving women who would go to the ends of the earth for their children. Tamra has a young daughter but she also takes Raia under her wing in this one, and this amazing woman is just so solid, competent and badass that it is no wonder that she was my favorite.

Other noteworthy characters include Lady Evara (you will see why once you read this and meet her), who surprised me on several occasions, and Yorbel with his gentle demeanor and wisdom. A few others also added interest and depth to the story with their roles, such as Prince Dar and the Ranir ambassador giving insight into Becar’s political troubles. And of course, who can forget Raia’s magnificent lion? While he may be a monstrous creature with no spoken lines or POV, his indomitable presence can still be felt throughout the novel, and overall I adored the concept of kehoks and the way they come in so many different shapes and sizes.

And yet, I still feel words aren’t enough to express just how much I loved this book! All I can say is, you really must try it to see for yourself. My expectations were already sky-high considering how much I’ve enjoyed Sarah Beth Durst’s other novels in the past, but she still managed to blow them all away with this one. Truly, her characterization, storytelling skills and world-building ideas are unparalleled, and with Race the Sands, she has pretty much raised the bar for all the books I’ll read for the rest of the year.
Profile Image for Athena (OneReadingNurse).
665 reviews91 followers
March 4, 2020
Thank you to Harper Collins Publishers - Harper Voyager for the eARC of Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst! The book releases April 21st 2020 so add it to your TBR now if you are interested!

**Description omitted for Goodreads review**

Does it sound a bit like The Scorpio Races? Yes, to the point where I almost put it down - but I encourage you to keep reading if you feel like DNFing at first. The first few chapters as well as the rest of the book read very "young" to me in the writing style, but the political intrigue and maneuvering part of the plot take over after the races start and I really did enjoy the book overall.

I would have liked to see more of Raia training the kehok at first - it happened so quickly where she went from a total novice to being ready to race. Not that they didn't have enough hurdles to overcome as it was but the racing ended up not being the main storyline of the book at all, which is where it differed from TSC and other similar books.

I liked the main character cast but they all had very similar voices. Raia can sound like a teenager because, well, she is one, and so can Dar, the emperor to be, but Tamra sounded like a kid and she had to be in her 30s at least. Lady Evara and Yorbel sounded a bit alike too and they ended up being amazing ancillary characters.

As far as the world building, SBD did an amazing job for a standalone novel. It is hard to build a world in one book and she described the architecture, art, food, religion, and social structure of Peron and the Heart of Becar in such a way that I felt like I knew not only the setting but the mood of the city. I would have liked to know more about the strict divisions between rich and poor though; it seems like in a reincarnation based society that anyone reborn as a human would be considered.... honorable? So why go as far as to keep the poor out of sight?

The religion was one of the most interesting parts of the plot. In order to crown a new emperor, the soul of the old emperor had to be found....and the augurs couldn't find him! I enjoyed the bits about reading souls and auras, worrying about what animal they would be reborn as, and the mental image of augurs canvassing every single ant hill looking for the emperor's soul! The downside of this is.... I called the major plot twist the second it was mentioned.

Also like I said, I found the races to be anticlimactic, even the championship race. This was a huge bummer for me but I understand that the races became a vessel for the rest of the book's plot in the second part of the book. It was a quick read and became impossible to put down in the last 150 pages or so.

I never feel like I do a good job describing books but if you are into strong female characters, monsters, racing, political intrigue and plotting, definitely pick up this book. I feel like it's marketed for adults as Tamra is older, but this is definitely appropriate for young adult readers. I went 4/5 stars just because of the lack of variation in character voices, but really the action and intrigue packed into this book is pretty impressive. Thank you again for the eARC, all opinions are my own!
Profile Image for Justine.
1,111 reviews301 followers
May 28, 2021
3.5 stars

If you want to try one of Sarah Beth Durst's books, this is a reasonably solid standalone fantasy novel representative of her work.

While I wasn't a fan of the entire Queens of Renthia series, I did enjoy the first two books in particular, The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen. Race the Sands shares some similar traits with those books, including an imaginative setting and interesting main characters whose primary flaws stem mostly from a lack of self belief and confidence. Personal growth and change are major themes and are explored to good effect; and while Race the Sands does start out a bit slow, it picks up considerably and sticks the finish in a satisfying way.

It's not a terribly complex book, and for me that straightforwardness meant it read more like a YA novel with crossover appeal rather than an adult fantasy. Regardless, it does tell an interesting story in an entertaining way and I can see why so many people like it.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
416 reviews170 followers
July 23, 2022
This was my first - and most likely last - outing with Sarah Beth Durst. Race the Sands is not so much bad as it is obvious: the high stakes magical competition, the underdog racers with no chance of winning (do I even need to put a spoiler warning here?), sabotage, political shenanigans, sneering villains...

The dedication is to Tamora Pierce, but this book reminds me a lot more of Mercedes Lackey, circa year 2000, down to the multiple third person perspectives that are there more for exposition than character. I particularly mind this technique when used for villainous perspectives if the villains don't turn out to be interesting. I used to skim them in Lackey, too, because straight up, one-note evil is deeply boring.

Anyway, the setting is a mythical desert kingdom with a Nile-like river in which humans get reincarnated according to behavior. The worst are doomed to become monsters called kehoks who are stuck as kehoks for every successive life (almost no attrition, so does the kehok population keep increasing forever?), and only the purest get reincarnated as human.

This is where the book maybe started to lose me - the reward for good behavior is getting to be human again? Seriously? I'm reminded of a poem in Catku: What Is the Sound of One Cat Napping?: "My brain: walnut sized. Yours: largest among primates. Yet who leaves for work?"

Anyway. There's a big race with a pot of gold for the winner, a washed-up trainer called Tamra who really needs the prize money, an untried girl named Raia running away from an arranged marriage, and the most murdery and stubborn kehok this world has ever seen. The story proceeds, beat-by-beat, exactly how you would expect. I was only surprised once .

I could have been down if the characters had been remotely appealing, but I just couldn't root for Tamra, whose recklessness endangers her students' lives, and who doesn't even feel remorse when they are injured so much as fear the repercussions for herself (because they're spoiled rich kids, so the little snots deserve it?), or Raia, the ingenue who goes from never having done anything athletic to lion-riding in a couple of weeks (who needs muscles, right?), or even the leonine kehok who transitions from flesh-eating-savage to helpful sidekick with remarkably little effort.

This world also doesn't make that much sense to me. The wealthy and powerful priesthood, the Augurs who can read the past and future form of a soul, conscript talented children across all social classes to fulfill a necessary and honorable role in society, yet force the poor to pay for their children's tuition or take them away by force. This seems like it would engender resentment, motivate the parents to hide their kids, and/or foment rebellion from within once the kids are Augurs themselves. Why not just pay the parents off (wouldn't take much if they're poor, no?) and prevent all that messy class conflict? Oh, because then there's no reason Tamra would be desperate to win this race. Got it.

The sentence-level writing is competent enough, though occasional lines are weird enough to yank me out of the story. Tamra tells Raia, "Think of a swimmer reaching the end of a pool - how does she switch directions?" Uh...they live in a desert. With a river, sure, but definitely not enough surface water or precipitation for pools. And an emperor who impulsively hugs people? Equally weird.

I skimmed the last 25% in which all the real action happens with only mild curiosity. Meh.
Profile Image for Ash.
122 reviews136 followers
April 5, 2020
Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book but I took a chance because it had quite a few elements that appealed to me: high fantasy, deadly races, reincarnation, a desert empire, and two strong female protagonists.

Race the Sands features two main characters, alternating between their perspectives and, occasionally, the perspectives of other side characters, from a third person point-of-view. I won’t give too much background on them because you’ll get it fairly early on in the book; all you need to know is that Tamra is kehok racing champion-turned-trainer and Raia is her student.

Tamra is easily one of my favorite characters of the year. She’s stubborn and straightforward and confident and tough. She has a major attitude, but underneath her spiny exterior, she genuinely cares for her daughter and her students. Raia is more sensitive, but with a similar determination and drive. They were both realistic and well-developed characters, with strengths and weaknesses.

The main plot was an underdog story with a twist that made it more unique and raised the stakes. The entire book was extremely well-paced, neither too slow nor too rushed, and I was never bored. Most of the plot developments were heavily foreshadowed and easy to predict, but there was one twist that genuinely caught me by surprise.

Aside from the characters, the worldbuilding was the highlight of Race the Sands. I enjoyed every aspect of it: the kehok racing, the reincarnation, the augurs, the politics of the emperor’s court, the threat of a hostile neighboring country. Durst introduced and built upon these aspects gradually and organically throughout the story.

I did have some complaints that kept this from earning a full five stars. The dialogue and narration occasionally felt trite. There were moments I could tell Durst was trying to be inspirational and deep, but she did it so often that the effect was muted. I wasn’t a fan of the romance, which was unnecessary and underdeveloped, but thankfully it was a minor plot point. I didn’t love the ending – I thought it was cheesy – but I didn’t hate it either.

Overall, Race the Sands was a thoroughly enjoyable standalone fantasy novel. You’re not going to want to miss this one.
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,065 reviews358 followers
April 21, 2020
Ahoy there me mateys! I received a copy of this young adult fantasy eArc from Edelweiss in exchange for me honest musings . . .

I absolutely loved this standalone novel. This novel has great female protagonists, fun evil creatures called kehoks, and some surprising plot twists. It was such a good reading experience that I didn’t even notice many of the writing inconsistencies until after I finished. I wanted to stay up all night reading but made meself go to bed. The author dedicated the book to Tamora Pierce. She is one of me favorite authors and Durst’s book certainly captures the spirit and feel of those beloved books.

Basically there are two main characters, Tamra and Raia. Tamra is a kehok trainer down on her luck. Raia is a runaway who decides the kehok races are the only way to earn her freedom. What is a kehok? Well, reincarnation is a reality in this society. A kehok is a person who is so irredeemable that are reborn as murderous tortured monsters who cannot rejoin the reincarnation cycle. Kehoks are used as racing beasts. Okay it doesn’t quite make sense but I didn’t care. Cause monster racing in the desert sounds cool!

The highlight for me were the characters. I loved Tamra and Raia but I grew to love Shalla, Yorbel, and Lady Evara. I loved that all of them had different reasons for wanting to win the race. I certainly was cheering them on. I enjoyed that the characters were from various backgrounds and of various ages. The races themselves ended up being background for a larger plot about political instability and religion but that ended up being okay because I wanted to see how it all turned out.

The world building was the weakest link even if it didn’t ruin the book for me. The world and politics felt very one dimensional. The emperor-to-be can’t be crowned until they find the animal housing his dead brother’s soul. This aspect of the reincarnation didn’t make sense. There was never any idea of what the point of the cycle was and how ye got out of it. Good people became animals frequently (and expected to) and so there was some puzzlement once the book was finished. Many of the plot points of this aspect of the novel were very easy to predict but not all.

But really those things were minor in comparison to how much I enjoyed the reading experience and characters. I certainly need to get back to Durst’s backlog because I had forgotten how much fun her writing could be. Arrrr!
Profile Image for Mehrnaz.
143 reviews93 followers
November 17, 2020
بعد از مدت‌ها که کلا نمی‌تونستم بخونم به جز تک‌ و توک غیر داستانی‌های خوب، که با سرعت آهسته جلوشون میبرم، سراغ این کتاب رفتم. اتفاقا که دلم اصلا فانتزی عمیق و خفن و دنیای فوق‌العاده نمی‌خواست. فقط می‌خواستم زن‌هایی رو ببینم که تلاشگر هستن!

اگر مستند فوق‌العاده زیبای knock down the house رو دیده باشید، خانوم‌هایی رو‌ می‌بینین که ترس تمام وجودشون رو گرفته ولی میرن رو استیج و جلوی مردم یا سیاست‌مدارهای مرد با سابقه قرار می‌گیرن و این کار رو با تمام قدرت انجام میدن. همیشه تردید دارن اما تمامِ خودشون رو انجام‌ میدن و می‌دونن که چیزی از بقیه آدم‌ها کم ندارن.
یه جمله هست که میگه:
Feel the fear and do it anyway.

مثل مستندی که گفتم، این کتاب هم دقیقا در موردهمین جمله‌ است! هر دو، از خانوم‌هایی میگن که وحشت کردن، اما ادامه میدن. گرچه دنیای این کتاب و آدم‌هاش واقعی نیستن، اما بی‌نهایت از خوندن افکارشون و مکالمات حمایت‌گرشون نسبت به هم لذت بردم. اینکه تقریبا برخلاف چیزی که ممکنه "انتظار" بره، اینجا دوست‌ها واقعی‌ان و زنان از زنان حمایت میکنن و برای هم پله می‌سازن.

داستان در دنیایی "کارما" شکل اتفاق میفته. دنیای که آدم‌ها پس از مرگ به شکل‌ها مختلف برمی‌گردن. برگشت‌هایی که مرتبط با نوع زندگی قبلی‌شون هست. مثلا ممکنه خبیث باشید و به شکل پشه برگیردید! :D
در بدترین حالت موجوداتی شیر مانند هستند که کیهاک نامیده میشن. پست‌ترین و تاریک‌ترین روح‌ها به شکل کیهاک برمیگردن. موجوداتی که هیچ خاطره‌ای از گذشته‌اشون ندارن و کاملا وحشی و خطرناک هستند، و حتی در صورت مرگ، باز هم در بدن کیهاک‌ها متولد میشن تا برای همیشه عذاب بکشن.
کیهاک‌سواری(!)( خیلی شبیه گاوبازی‌های پرخشونت) یکی از پرطرفدارترین سرگرمی‌های این دنیاست. داستان ‌با شرایط بدِ اجبار مالی دو زن، یکی مربی و یکی دیگه به ناچار به دنبال شرکت در مسابقات، و برخورد اون‌ها با هم، شروع میشه... داستان کتاب پر از هیجان و کشش هست و عمق زیبایی داره.(۴.۵*)

I don't want to run from anything anymore, I want to run to something.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,071 reviews7 followers
August 30, 2020
3.5 stars

It seems that it has taken a global pandemic for me to enjoy YA fantasy again.

It reminded me a bit of The Scorpio Races but with better characterisation and a stronger storyline.

This is a world where your soul is guaranteed to be reincarnated after death. But what you become in your next life is determined by how pure you are in this one. A person who has committed a serious crime, such as murder, will be reborn as the lowest of the low for the rest of eternity: a Kheok.

These Kheok are abominations of nature, taking the shape of lions with scorpion tails, or rhinos with snake scales and venom. In the city of Becar only the bravest race these Kheok and the story starts with one of the trainers, Tamara.

Tamara has been on a downward trajectory and her sponsor has given her one last chance to choose a winning Kheok and rider.

On the other side of town the emperor-to-be is frantically searching for the animal his brother (the late emperor) has morphed into. If he cannot identify his brother’s soul he cannot be come emperor. With an enemy army breathing down his neck he has the whole empire at stake

And then there is Raia. She is a failed augur trainee (soul seer) and runs from home searching for a better life. She inevitably gets tangled up in Tamara’s search and court intrigue.

I loved the idea of reincarnation and the way the story unfolded.

If you love YA fantasy and want a book you can devour in a few days then this book is for you.
Profile Image for Ellen Gail.
834 reviews373 followers
October 25, 2022
“Death erases all we are and all we were. So the past and the future? They don’t matter as much as what you do in the moment. In every moment.”

Five stars. This exceeded my every expectation and then some.

My relationship with the almighty fantasy genre (both YA and adult) has had its ups and downs. It's a genre home to the best of the best, on the coast of an ocean filled of mediocre, derivative, or just plain bad fiction. And it's a genre that, frankly, is easy for me to get burnt out on.

But I saw that Race the Sands was getting some positive reviews and despite some reservations, I clicked that "Enter Giveaway" button.

Turns out, that was one of my smarter impulse decisions. Race the Sands is everything I could want in a fantasy. A fully realized world filled with wonderfully drawn characters and a story so engaging, I could barely look away.

In Becar, who you will be is as important as who you are. The augurs in the city read auras, promote peace, and guide the citizens on their journey towards their destiny in the next life. Will they be reincarnated as a hawk, soaring above the clouds? Perhaps a playful lemur?

For the lowest of the low, the souls so blackened they are irredeemable, there is only one fate; life as a kehok. These desert monsters are a mishmash of animal and metal, brutal creatures whose only desire is to slash, bite, and cause chaos and violence.

But for those who dare to try to control them, fame and money is only a race away.

You are right to fear the kehoks. They will always be stronger, faster, and far more deadly than you, and given the opportunity, they will kill you. Only idiots stop being afraid of what can kill them. Dead idiots.

Tamra Verlas is a retired rider turned trainer, content with leaving her glory days on the track behind to raise her daughter Shalla and train new riders, teaching them the mental control required to ride a racer to the finish line. But an unfortunate racing accident leaves blood on the sand and Tamra's reputation damaged. Forced to rely on the dwindling financial support of her patron Lady Evara, Tamra is down to her last chance.

One more rider. One more racer. And one last dream to win it all. But the stakes have grown higher than anyone could have imagined.

What follows is one HELL of a story. We have a grieving emperor-to-be, a runaway looking to lose her problems on the racetrack, an augur weighing his soul against the greater good, and one massively strong kehok. All of that plus an impending war, political machinations, and a heaping dose of moral ambiguity, and you have a near perfect story, one that manages to be funny and touching, exciting and thought provoking.

Less than a quarter of the way through, I thought I had this book figured out. I had a sense of, "this is where this is going, this is the general road we're taking." Turns out, we traveled that road for a bit, then took a multi-state road trip, complete with scenic detours! For every plot point that I could see coming, or suspected, there was a moment that made me gasp or brought tears to my eyes. Character revelations, slashed throats, revealed motives, shocking sabotage, growth in the face of fear; all of it executed with the precision of a penknife.

“There is no good answer. People will suffer, and I cannot prevent it. Keep the secret, and the emperor-to-be cannot be crowned . . . and chaos. Expose it, and shake the faith of thousands.”

Race the Sands is such a fun read, charmingly written and plotted. It delivered thrills alongside deep emotional connections and a side dish of humor. I spent a solid day after reading it just reveling in the post-good-book bliss, a narrative high that only the best stories can provide.

Suffice to say, I heartily recommend this.

Thanks to Goodreads FirstReads and Harper Voyager for the free ebook!
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews255 followers
May 9, 2020

4.5 Stars for Characters: Tamra, Raia, Shalla, Yorbel, Dar, Lady Evara, Kehok: Black Lion
4 Stars for Themes
3 Stars for Plot
-2 Stars for Breaking Suspension of Belief

Woohoo! I'm glad this book came up in my GR feed and that I decided to take a chance on it. I didn't realize that I had several of the author's books in my TBR to read until after I finished this one. Kudos to Niki & Mark. They are a big part of the reason why I decided to take a chance and read this story. Hi-5 to Gaea for being a fun Buddy Read partner.

On the surface, Race the Sands is a story about using chimeras to race on a track. Chimera racing! Cool idea, right? Beyond the cover, this story is about following your heart, being true to yourself and standing up for what you believe in.

Race the Sands is a great, standalone, YA novel with solid plot, awesome characters and lots of heart.

The characters are wonderful! You will feel the full range of emotions as you read the story. The author isn't that subtle. It's rather easy to put the pieces together but the mystery is not the point. You will know what is going on and you will devour the pages to find out how the characters take on the challenges.

- Characters
- Core Plot
- Themes
- Sharp Humor
- Naive Faith, Compassion & Love
- Great lines & phrases that fit the moment really well.
- Triumphant in Sorrow

- The intro was too dramatic & overemphasized. It took longer than necessary to click with the characters & they're the reason people will root for this book. When a writer chooses to write in a less descriptive manner, it doesn't need 10+ repetitions to establish a setting or emotion.
- 90% of the time, the story stayed within the setting frame but there were breaks by poorly chosen words that are modern slang or unlikely to be common knowledge for a desert country.
- Extra POVs that came across as cheats to move the plot forward vs necessary to tell the story.
Profile Image for ᒪᗴᗩᕼ .
1,455 reviews142 followers
May 16, 2020
⇢ 5+ ✰STARS✰


This book will be in my top 5 books of the year...I'm sure of it. There is absolutely nothing that I can fault about this book. I loved it. It didn't even feel like it was over 500 pages, I flew through it...most of it one day. Which is crazy because it's almost 16 hours long. I can't even say anything bad about the narration...which really should have had more narrators for all the different POV's, but it only had one, and she freaking nailed it.

Race the Sands has a phenomenal world, that is completely unique, and unlike anything I ever read/listened to. With inspiring characters that shine bright, insane action and moments that are heartfelt and uplifting. It's labeled as Adult on the Author's website...but I'm not sure why...it has almost no romance at all...there are relationships that are cultivated, from friendship to familial, but it really only hints at something like romance. There are some deaths brought on by murder...that's the only element that would hint at this being strictly adult. I personally believe it's suitable for anyone above the age of 13 or so...both the young-ish and the young at heart.



Plot⇢ 5/5
Characters⇢ 5/5
The Feels⇢ 5+/5
Pacing⇢ 5/5
Addictiveness⇢ 5/5
Theme, Tone or Intensity⇢ 5/5
Flow (Writing Style)⇢ 5/5
World-Building⇢ 5+/5
Originality⇢ 5/5
Ending⇢ 5/5

Profile Image for Melanie  Brinkman.
618 reviews74 followers
April 21, 2020
Choices will always follow you, through this life and the next.

Death is an end, but not the end. Not in Becar, where your choices are the true masters. Live life with a good heart, and come back  as a decent being. Truly rotten souls are fated to forever come back as kehoks, monsters, with no hope for redemption.

Unless you win the races.

After a tragic accident with a student ruined her life, Tamra, a professional trainer, is down on her luck. Without the winnings of the races, she'll lose everything she loves. But can she find a rider who will trust her?

Escaping a potentially deadly fate, Raia serches for a way to survive. As a kehok rider, she could buy her freedom. But she has no idea how to become a racer.

When an unforeseen chain of events surrounding an odd kehok brings the women together, they find they have the power to race to victory- or- die on the backs of monsters.

A story of two women racing towards fates of their own choosing. A tale of humans monsters and the murkier waters in between.

Trigger warnings for injury, mention of domestic violence, grief, loss of a loved one, violence, light gore, and cruelty.

A huge thank you to Harper Voyager and Sarah Beth Durst for my giveaway win arc. All opinions are my own.

Fierce, straightforward Tamra was once one of the elite. A former racer turned trainer, her confident, stubborn nature saw her through a blemished reputation. A tough but gentle heart beamed as did whatever it took to protect her daughter, Shalla, and those she cared for. I couldn't help but cheer for this abrasively soft soul.

Scared but determined, Raia was desperate to escape her cruel family and impending marriage. Watching the driven soul build her confidence both as a rider and human was beautiful. The more I got to know her, the more I respected Raia.

Life has funny ways of guiding us towards those we truly need. One for of stability, and one for independence, our two main characters found so much more in each other then a racing companion. Trainer and racer they may have been, but both women learned something from the other. Tamra coaxed out the the bravery that Raia hid deep within her, while Raia reminded Tamra of the courage she possessed. However, watching the two recognize their self-worth was the most rewarding part of their relationship in my opinion.

The future is certain, but what about the fate of your future? That's for you to decide. In a well built world of the purest of souls and literal monsters, twisted by their own evils, Race the Sands spins the essence of what makes us human into fantasy gold. It took a couple chapters, as the writing got better and better, but I was soon ensconced within Sarah Beth Durst's decadently deadly standalone. Even my prediction of the first plot twist only left me intrigued to follow Tamra and Raia as they risked it all to follow destinies of their own making. A kingdom flush with religion based politics made a perfect backdrop for the story of biological and found family, recognizing your worth, independence, and the power of your choices. Stunningly heartfelt, this action-packed adventure was infused with the perfect amount of morals and ethics. I couldn't put it down!

Trust me, you'll want to race to get your hands on this one.
Profile Image for Kristina.
254 reviews71 followers
October 31, 2021
Race The Sands is a solid standalone adult fantasy novel. It's filled with wonderful characters, political intrigue, and monster racing. This is the second book I've read by Sarah Beth Durst and I think she is such an underrated fantasy author. I wish more people would read her books because they are well written and unique. She also does a great job writing strong female characters that are relatable. If you like fantasy books definitely give this one a try. I think it has appeal for both adult and YA fantasy readers.
Profile Image for Beatrice in Bookland.
444 reviews838 followers
July 25, 2020
"Run! That's all that matters! That's all that exists! You are nothing but the sand beneath the hooves, the wind in your face, the sun on your back. You are this moment. Feel the moment. Feel the race!"

Profile Image for Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard.
1,144 reviews244 followers
May 10, 2020
A fantasy romance with majority female cast that has like NO ROMANCE cause they're busy saving the damn kingdom while talking to a lion?! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas bitch!

I freaking loved the whole cast but especially our main character. First has an ability to write female mom characters that are empathetic and strong and likable *chefs kiss* also a big fan of that "make your family when your blood family is shit"
Profile Image for Di Maitland.
258 reviews78 followers
July 26, 2020
Augur Yorbel, will you please inform the Emperor to be that his prize racer will only run for one rider.

WHAT an awesome read. I loved this book. It's got monster racing, alpha-females, sweet princes, political intrigue and family drama, what's not to love.

Tamra is a kehok racing trainer. A former racer herself, she's familiar with the huge monsters, a mishmash of animals parts host to the souls of the worst of human society in their former lives. I must admit, I was sceptical of this reincarnation at first. I figured that it was something made up by the Augurs to keep the populace in line and that this revelation would drive the plot. Not so; it seems in Becar souls genuinely are reborn into new bodies, human, animal or kehok.

Controlled through a psychic link, kehoks require rock-solid concentration and unflagging determination. Slip for a moment and it'll be your life, and probably the lives of those around you, too. But the kehok races bring in big money, and Tamra needs money. Tamra's daughter, Shalla, has been found worthy by the Augurs - morally-incorruptible, priest-like men and women who read auras and guide souls toward virtue and salvation - and if Tamra can't pay her tuition, they'll take Shalla to live in the Temple.

Raia also needs money. Seventeen and living on the streets to escape an arranged marriage, kehok racing seems the only way for Raia to make the money she needs to pay off her parents. Tamra, short on funds for a proven kehok and rider, and seeing Raia's inner strength, agrees to take her on, along with a freshly-caught metallic kehok lion. With only a few weeks until the qualifying races, the challenge is on to get Raia and the lion ready, and the stakes are rising.

Whilst the first half of the book focuses on the training and the races, the last half of the book moves into more political waters and there are plots within plots. Toward the end, success seems impossible - as it should in any good book. We are, at least, reasonably sure of our friends

Tamra is relentlessly determined and quite cynical, though pleasantly free of the usual chip on her shoulder. She is kind to those who deserve it, and not unnecessarily cruel to those that don't, the kehoks for example. Meanwhile, Raia lacks confidence initially, but this soon grows with Tamra's unwavering belief and affection and her growing bond with the lion.

Lady Evara, their patron, was delightfully complicated; Prince Dar, kind and humble but sad and lonely; and Yorbel everything we would wish for in an Augur. It only occurs to me now quite how female-heavy the cast is!

All in all, a fabulous story about determination and control. I was sad that I'll be looking for more Sarah Beth Durst to read now, and probably moving the The Scorpio Races up my to-read pile.

If you liked Race the Sands, you might like:
Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands, #1) by Alwyn Hamilton Alanna The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1) by Tamora Pierce Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1) by Patricia Briggs Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
Profile Image for Caylynn.
643 reviews89 followers
April 5, 2021
Reread review: still as stunning as ever. I REALLY need to purchase myself an actual copy of this book!

Disclaimer: I won an ARC of this book courtesy of a Goodreads giveaway, so my review of this book is of an unpublished edition.
"Run!" she shouted at the two riders. "That's all that matters! That's all that exists! You are nothing but the sand beneath the hooves, the wind in your face, the sun on your back. You are this moment. Feel the moment. Feel the race!"

I cannot. How the hell is this only a standalone?? I need an entire series about this. I need the plot of this book to be spread to at least three novels, with a few spin-offs and a TV series in Avatar:TLA artistic format. This was brilliant. I literally read this book in like FIVE HOURS. You can bet your ass I'm buying a copy of this book so I can read the final edition.

Race the Sands is a story of stubbornness, survival, demonic racing, and reincarnation. It's the story of corruption, greed, holy deities proving that they really aren't all that they're cut out to be. It's the story of Tamra, a former demon-racer-turned-mother who would kill the world to keep her child safe, and Raia, a young woman who just wants freedom from her oppressive past and the life that was about to be forced upon her.

Look, the concept of reincarnation has always fascinated me. While I don't particularly believe in it, I still love learning everything about it. So you KNOW that, as soon as I read the synopsis of this book, I had to read it. And I was given everything I wanted on a silver damn platter. In this universe, people are capable of being reborn as anything. With Augurs to divine past and future lives if they have any desire in knowing them, humans can anticipate what is waiting for them after their rebirth and shape their current life with good or bad decisions to get the best the universe is willing to offer based on their actions. The worst of the worst in humanity are reborn as kehoks, an eternity of punishment as a literal monster to match the monster you were as a human.

These kehoks are used in the Races, a form of entertainment in Becar, and a chance of fame and a comfortable life for our two main characters. And boy, are our two main characters fucking BRILLIANT.
"You're trying to get into my head and shake my confidence. It won't work." She had already doubted herself far more effectively than this stranger ever could, and she wasn't ltting any of it stop her.

I just...that stubborn bitchiness. That competence in the face of doubt and self-consciousness.

Tamra and Raia are a duo of epic proportions, and a breath of fresh air in the midst of other YA female protagonists who don't know how to balance on the fine line between femininity and brutal strength. Both heroines are clever, strong, passionate, and goal-oriented, sometimes to a fault that is actually addressed in the novel. Like, dude-
"It's not as if we carry our memories into our new life, at least not reliably," Tamra said. "So I'll be a fish. Or a bird. Or a cricket. Does it matter, so long as I've done the best I can?"

The writing in Race the Sands was just as phenomenal as the plot and the characters, too. Sarah Beth Durst was able to develop the world and it's lore in such a captivating manner, and I cannot WAIT to read other books by her in the future.

If you're looking for something entirely unique, intriguing, action-packed, and full of a diverse and lovable cast of characters, check this shit out.
Profile Image for Shelley.
5,125 reviews459 followers
April 27, 2020
*Source* Publisher
*Genre* Epic Fantasy
*Rating* 4.0


In this epic standalone fantasy, Sarah Beth Durst's Race the Sands 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. In the desert world of Becar, people are reincarnated upon death and the worst of the worst are reincarnated as kehoks, or demons that are the dream spawn of Simic monster hybrids.

*Full Review @ Gizmos Reviews*

Profile Image for gabrielle.
155 reviews90 followers
February 20, 2022
In Becar, souls are reborn again and again, and your previous life dictates the future of your next. If you were generally a good person, did few things wrong, and overall helped to make the world a little better, you could be reborn as a human or a higher-class animal like a monkey or tiger. If not, you could come back as something less savory, like a bug. But the fate saved for those irredeemable souls is to be reborn as a kehok, vicious monsters incapable of reason or empathy. And unlike every other creature, there is no chance of redemption once becoming a kehok…unless you can win the Races.

Tamra is a past champion of the races and is now a coveted professional trainer for others who wish to be. However, a tragic accident last year has left her with broken confidence, a damaged reputation, and penniless. When she becomes unable to keep up with payments for her daughter’s augur training, the local temple threatens to take her away. The only way to make the payment in time is with the prize money from winning the Races, which means Tamra needs to find a winning kehok and a rider willing to trust her after the horrors of the previous season.

While Tamra is discovering the mysterious metallic lion and his rider, Raia, trouble is brewing in Becar. The new emperor-to-be, Prince Dar, cannot ascend the throne until the soul of his brother, the previous emperor, is discovered within its new vessel. As the time spent without a crowned emperor grows, tensions are running high among the people and protests have broken out. Prince Dar is unintentionally sowing doubt within Becar’s citizens, and other players vying for the throne are scheming.

Race the Sands had everything one could want in a rich fantasy story. Monster racing, with nail-biting action and unnerving stakes; political machinations, filled with lies, backstabbing, betrayals, and the occasional good surprise; multi-layered characters, who you can’t help but become emotionally invested in; and a well-developed world with a unique twist on the typical cycle of life.

The politics, which isn’t always my favorite aspect of stories, were amazing. There were so many underhanded things going on that every character, no matter how minor they seemed at first, came to play a huge part in the outcome of Becar. In this society, augurs are religious figures gifted with the ability to see souls and the paths they’re on, making them revered and feared. Good intentions are the standard, the purest way to live but the moral ambiguities portrayed in this story show how a lot of terrible things can be done under the guise of good intentions.

Tamra and Raia are both amazing main characters. Tamra is fierce and the best mom ever – she will take on the whole world before she allows harm to come to Shalla. Raia is empathetic and tough at the same time, and I loved watching her discover the depths of her inner strength and make connections with people who genuinely cared about her. All the side characters – Lady Evara, Prince Dar, and Augur Yorbel – became much more than you might expect at first and Dar was definitely a favorite of mine.

The climax was phenomenal. When the final race had arrived and there were still a hundred pages left, I knew I was in for a wild ride – it got much darker than I was anticipating, and I loved it. Race the Sands was an entertaining, expeditious, and unputdownable story, one I highly recommend to pretty much any fantasy fan out there but especially if you love fierce female characters and political intrigue.
Profile Image for Bright Star.
395 reviews125 followers
March 14, 2020
4.5 stars

I received an ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for a honest review

Race the Sands was such an incredible book! I loved the main concept but what I loved most were the characters: strong, independent women who made their choices and never gave up, chasing their dreams and willing to do everything in their power to change their lives and their future. Women who didn't give a damn about rules and duties, they decided their fates, they chose how to live and what was worth fighting for. This book was about them, about family and friendship, about courage and determination.

"Life isn't just about who you were— it's about who you choose to be."
Profile Image for Jane.
908 reviews63 followers
May 3, 2020
4.5 stars

You can read all of my reviews at https://www.NerdGirlLovesBooks.com.

Wow. Who knew a book about a young girl racing a monster in the sand would blow me away. This book was so fricking good!! Of course, I expect no less from Sarah Beth Durst. I love her writing and this latest book is a must read.

In Becar, how you live your life determines what physical form you will take when you are reborn. Priest-like individuals known as augers can read a person's aura to determine their fate. Knowing their fate, a person can make choices to help them in the afterlife. But, for the darkest and most evil of individuals, you are reborn as a monster called a kehok, and will remain a kehok for eternity.

Being chosen to be an auger is an honor. If a family has the money, they can pay the academy for the "privilege" of keeping their children at home with them while they attend the academy. If not, the children are plucked out of their families and must live and train at the academy.

A popular pastime in Becar is kehok racing. Tamara was an elite kehok rider until she had a terrible accident. It ended her career, ruined her reputation and left her broke. She eeks out a living training rich kids to race kehoks. She desperately needs one of her trainees to win a race so she can pay the auger academy to keep her daughter at home with her.

Raia has run away from her domineering family who betrothed her to a cruel man after she flunked out of the auger academy. With no skills or way to support herself, she decides to train as a kehok racer, hoping to win enough money to buy her freedom.

Both women entrust their fate on a strange lion-like kehok that at times appears to understand what they say. But Raia can never get too comfortable, because given the chance a kehok will kill everything in sight.

As I said, I love this author's writing. She has the ability to grab your attention on the first page and not let it go until the satisfying end. Tamara and Raia were fully developed characters that grew throughout the story in a natural and believable way. Tamara is a strong, capable woman without being harsh or overcritical, particularly when training Raia. She is a loving mother and is willing to do anything to protect her daughter. Raia starts out as a timid girl with no confidence and grows into a fierce champion able to stand up for herself.

The story has an even pace and doesn't lag in the middle like a lot of books tend to do. While kehok racing is a central component of the book, there is just enough action to get a feel for the racing without it dragging out and becoming boring. Despite being 544 pages, the book is a fast read that you won't want to put down.

Stand alone fantasy books are hard to find, so this would be a gem even if it wasn't so good. Luckily, this is a fantastic book that is a must read for any fantasy book lovers.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Leanne.
270 reviews54 followers
August 18, 2021
I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about this!

In Becar, who you are in your current life determines who you get reborn as. The worst possible creature to be reincarnated as is as a kehok, a monster that is a mix of other animals. The protagonist, Tamra, is a kehok racer who is seeking glory, with the help of Raia, a young kehok rider.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s refreshingly original, has a great plot, and is filled with strong characters. Tamra and Raia were both amazing — they have distinct personalities and I was really rooting for both of them. I loved the idea of people living their lives according to what they wanted to be reincarnated as; it gives rise to a strange religious (ish) order dominated by augurs. And the kehoks were fascinating creatures, especially the story behind the one that Raia rides. Not only that, but the plot also has lots of fun politics. All of this made Becar feel rich and very, very real.

This book strikes the right balance between character development and plot. Throw in some wonderful world-building and spicy politics, and you’ve got yourself an excellent story. Highly recommended to lovers of both YA and adult fantasy.
Profile Image for Amanda .
432 reviews153 followers
May 1, 2020
You can also read my review here: https://devouringbooks2017.wordpress....

Review: 4.5 Stars

I really loved this book! I've been having a hard time getting into fantasy novels lately, but when I saw all of the amazing reviews that Race the Sands was getting I just had to give it a chance. I wasn't sure that I even wanted to read a book about monster racing, but I wound up really loving it. This was a fabulous standalone fantasy and I really loved the story and its characters.

I really enjoyed all of the characters, but I especially loved Raia. Her search for a better life was incredibly empowering and I loved how down-to-earth she was. Her character felt so genuine and I really felt like I could empathize with her, she was just easy for me to relate to. Tamra was a character that I related to a bit less, but still loved reading about. She was so stubborn and determined. Even though nothing seemed to be working out she never gave up hope and I really admired that. Sarah Beth Durst created some strong willed female characters that were really easy to connect to. These characters helped make this story so fantastic and really helped me feel emotionally invested in this journey.

I think a big part of what made this book so fantastic was the world building. It was easy to sink into, yet had a lot of elements to it. The politics, religion and reincarnation were each explained well, but without too much detail. Even though Race the Sands was over 500 pages and I've been going through a fantasy slump I flew right through this book, which has been a really hard thing for me to do lately. It all came together really well and I just thought that the idea was so fascinating. I was not really excited about the idea of monster racing, but the story wound up being so much more than that and I really just loved the whole thing.

The plot was great. There were several unexpected twists and the way different plot lines came together was truly masterful. I loved the races because those parts of the book just got me so excited. I found myself reading as fast as I could so I could know what happened next. I just really enjoyed this book. I laughed, got angry and rooted for Raia and Tamra every step of the way. I have had a hard time getting excited about reading lately, but I had no issues getting invested in this story.

Overall I'm really impressed. I had only read one other book by Sarah Beth Durst, but now I'm dying to see what else she's written. This was a fantastic standalone and a wild ride. I was so doubtful about this book but I'm happy to say that I would highly recommend it to fans of fantasy adventure stories.
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