July 7, 2024

Review: Race the Sands

Race the Sands Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes a good cover can entice you to pick up a book even though you've read nothing by that author. That applied in this case: this cover, depicting what looks like a lion (but definitely not a flesh-and-blood one, with the scaled metallic sheen to its hide and the three-pronged tail) intrigued me enough to check the book out from the library.

After that, of course, the story has to immediately draw the reader in, with the very first lines. That also happened in this case:

Call it what it is: monster racing.

Forget that, and you die.

Well. Color me sucked right in, please.

This is the story of Tamra, a failed "kehok" trainer (kehoks are the titular racing monsters, damned souls reborn into the sands of Becar and captured for the yearly races in the capital city), striving to win to better her own and her daughter's life; Raia, a young woman fleeing a forced marriage whose only hope is to become a rider; Dar, the Emperor-to-be of Becar whose coronation is delayed until he can find the vessel his recently-deceased brother, Emperor Zarin, has been born into; and Yorbel, an "augur" who reads souls, including damned and reborn ones. The augurs are the most powerful people in Behar (and we all know what happens to those with absolute power), and in the process of this (thankfully) stand-alone story, Tamra and her cohorts burn their regime down.

This book doesn't have as many layered subtexts as most I read: it's more of a straightforward adventure, with monsters. It's expertly paced and the characters and relationships are well drawn, especially the relationship between Raia and her kehok, the black lion who is the reborn Emperor Zarin. That said, there are a few intriguing issues touched on throughout the story:

He [Yorbel] didn't argue with her on that. But he did say, "The empire needs augurs."

"Does it?" Tamra dared. It wasn't a question she'd ever voiced out loud, much less one she ever expected to say to an actual augur. She'd seen the way the augurs reminded people of their better selves--without them, it was said, the empire would dissolve into chaos. Would it really, though? "Does it truly benefit people to know what their soul will become? What does it matter? Shouldn't they just be good people because they love their family and they care about the people around them? People should be good because it's right, not because an augur tells them it's what they should do."

This theme could have done with a bit more exploration, perhaps, but it's adequate for the story's purposes (and it easily could have been turned into a heavy-handed rant, which the author, to her credit, avoided). In any event, I really enjoyed this book, which is the most important thing. I will be keeping an eye out for the author's work in the future.

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