Race the Sands
Race the Sands is a sweet, mythical tale of friendship and family which celebrates the joy of finding your place – and your people – in the world.
In the kingdom of Becar how you conduct yourself in this life determines who – or what – you come back as in your next. The worthy come back as heirs to vast estates, the less worthy as dung beetles. The darkest individuals, those who made no attempts at redemption, come back as a kehok, a vicious, murderous monster, and they are doomed to that form for all eternity, through endless cycles of life, death and rebirth.
The races can break that cycle. If a human rider can successfully win a race atop a kehok racer, their life changes forever. Races are Becars’ great equalizers. They pull the poor out of poverty, they pluck the lowly from obscurity and bring them fame and glory. And for the grand champion, the one who wins the final, most grueling race of all, they receive a charm which permits their kehok to be reincarnated as a more worthy being.
In her youth, Tamra had a celebrated career as an elite kehok rider and as an adult, she took the natural next step and became a professional trainer for young riders. During the previous season her sponsor, Lady Evara, had given her sufficient funds to purchase the best kehok at the markets, and to train the best rider she could find. When she pushed them too hard to win the final race in the Heart of Becar, both had died. Even worse, they took down numerous other racers and riders with them. All Tamra’s savings went to pay fines and Lady Evara demoted her to working with the children of rich men, spoiled brats who want to sit upon the tamest kehoks she can find and pretend to be brave.
But Tamra needs money, big money. Her daughter Shalla has been chosen to become an augur, one of the priests who read spiritual auras and provide guidance to the people. There are only two paths for Shalla’s education: Tamra can pay for it, which means her daughter gets to attend classes during the day and live at home the rest of the time or the temple can pay for it, which would mean Shalla having to live there full time, not seeing Tamra for the next ten years. Tamra has no intention of giving up her daughter and the only way to get the money she needs is to win races. She pleads with Lady Evara to give her one more chance. Her begging earns her a small sum of money with which to buy a kehok. Now, she needs to find a rider willing to trust her.
Raia failed the training as an augur. Her failure means her family needs to pay the temple back for the years of education they provided, and her family plans to do this by marrying her to a very wealthy old man who has already killed one wife. While hiding from pursuers in the kehok section of the market, she overhears Tamra talking of needing a rider and approaches her for the job. Only the strongest win the races but what Tamra knows that many don’t is that it is not muscle that is required but strength of mind, heart and will. Even though the girl has no experience, Tamra is impressed with her courage in approaching her and agrees to train Raia as a rider.
But Raia is only half the equation for winning the race. The other half is an extraordinary kehok and Tamra thinks she has found him in the black lion. Massive, covered with metallic black scales rather than fur and with a tail that splits into three muscular whips, the creature is clearly strong and fast. She thinks he is a winner.
While Tamra and Raia deal with their significant personal problems, Prince Dar faces a horrible conundrum of national magnitude. As heir to the throne of Becar, he is the rightful emperor of the land, but he cannot be crowned until he finds the vessel for his predecessor’s soul. Currently, the country is at a halt, waiting for the augurs to come back with whatever being his brother Zarin, the previous Emperor, has become. Three months have already been lost and Dar only has weeks left to find Zarin’s reincarnation. If he is not successful, his ancestral line will be deemed unworthy to hold the throne, he will be executed and a successor will be chosen to take his place.
The destinies of these four characters will intertwine for a race that will change the destiny of their world.
Tamra is a sympathetic heroine. She has some serious physical and emotional scars; years at the races left her with a painful leg and she had some difficult familial issues which forced her to become a rider, but rather than use that as an excuse to be cruel, she does her best to ensure those around her don’t suffer the same fates. She tries to train her students well, and she is a completely devoted mother, providing Shalla with the loving home she never had herself.
In many ways Raia is the image of a younger Tamra: a desperate young woman whose parents have placed her in a position where she must participate in the races in order to survive. Her inexperience – and therefore, her lack of prejudice – towards the kehoks proves to be the salvation of many.
Both of these ladies – and their sponsor Lady Evara – are strong, independent women who refuse to accept the difficult positions in which life wants to place them and fight to form their own destinies.
Dar, on the other hand, is a very dependent character. He isn’t simply fighting for his own life but for the fate of his kingdom and that means he has to rely on others for aid. Fortunately, he recognizes valuable allies when he sees them and when he pairs up with our two heroines and Lady Evara,he becomes a force to be reckoned with.
My favorite character is easily Lady Evara. She’s a bit morally ambiguous – a good person but one who sees life in shades of grey rather than adhering to a strict standard of right and wrong. She’s funny and clever and ruthless, and I felt she added a certain sparkle to every scene she was in.
This isn’t a romance novel but there is a budding relationship between two of the characters toward the end which is very sweet.
But while the story is charming, it is also very familiar, trope ridden and predictable. Before I’d finished the first quarter of the book, I’d worked out what happened to Zarin, what archetypes Shalla, Tamra, and Raia were, and the identities of the villains. That didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel, but if you’re looking for something completely new, this isn’t it.
However, Race the Sands will be a perfect read for fans of the author and a great choice for anyone looking for a fun fantasy read.