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Book Review: Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst [April 21, 2020]

Title: Race the Sands

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Life, death, and rebirth—in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races. -Goodreads

The Review: 

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.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Queen of the Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Title: Queen if the Blood

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Series: The Queens of Renthia #1

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure. Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . . But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms. With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

Queen of the Blood hooked me from the first page. Which is saying something, considering how hard I’ve been on YA lately.

It had an excellent start – surprising me right out of the gate with a few plot decisions that I really appreciated because I’m well past the point of feeling most YA novels are repetitive. It has been many moons since one defied my straightforward predictions so well. It maintained a level of distinction from other books in the genre the whole way through. Nice.

Although not expanded on, there were some really neat world-building attributes to the story that gave it a unique flair. Setting: settlements and towns nestled in rich, forested areas. Atmosphere: the ever-present threat from looming spirits. Leadership structure: one woman selected by the spirits to control them (what could go wrong here?). School systems: fun training exercises to teach young women how to harness spirits (in case they become queen). All of these components are what made the novel so successful for me.

What knocked it back down a notch or two was that I don’t think some of these things were expanded on enough… most specifically the school system. It’s the main selling point of the story, but I think there were many missed opportunities to provide a true moment of training for the reader. Obstacle course tests were really brief and lacked detail. Coursework was mentioned, but the reader rarely got to learn anything from it. At least it did incorporate a lot of spirit-harnessing work outside of the academy, so that saved it to a degree. Even so, I wish there had been more.

The characters were good. They reminded me a bit of those in the Lunar Chronicles from a dynamic standpoint. There could’ve been more connection with the side characters, however. They all blended together to the point where, when something happened to one of them, it didn’t have an impact because they were interchangeable. A huge gripe of mine (the biggest hit to my rating) was how ignorant the main characters remained to what was really going on, despite having clues that a grade schooler could pick up on (the reader knows all along… I’m not a fan of dramatic irony, either). You could rationalize a few explanations, but it came off to me as a craft issue – the author needed the characters not to know something to keep the story going, so she lessened their ability to reason through evidence instead of reworking how it was presented. It drove me crazy because it was an inconsistency of character (beings who were capable, careful, thoughtful, intuitive… all thrown out for convenience). I don’t normally rant in my reviews, but this issue tested my patience. Queen of Blood was still a fun read… just be prepared to “go with it” to a degree.

Overall, I’m thrilled at how often the book surprised me. The writing was engaging and fluid, making it easy to devour. There were a few things I thought could’ve been developed more, but hopefully they’ll get expanded on in the next book.

Recommendations: this YA fantasy offers a lot of fun and creativity. It would be a great rec for people who liked the feel of the fae in the “Wicked Lovely” series, and those who appreciated the unique atmosphere of the “Lunar Chronicles.” I had some minor personal gripes with it, but comparably it’s still a very strong recommend if you like the genre. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes