Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thank you to HarperCollins for providing this novel in exchange for an honest review!

“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.”


As an introduction to Sarah Beth Durst’s works, you can’t go wrong with Race the Sands. This stand-alone epic fantasy adventure features hair-raising monster racing, an older woman as a protagonist, and found family elements all set against a backdrop filled with intense political machinations. 

Tamra is thrust into the midst of these politics in a way she never could have anticipated. She works as a trainer for youths hoping to participate in the Beccaran races, riding the dangerous, violent kehoks. In her desperation, she bets on an unproven kehok and an orphan girl to win the races in their very first year. The kehok she’s found, however, is not all it seems; often, it seems to understand more than it should, or acts with something almost resembling compassion. 

This behavior is utterly unheard of in a kehok. Kehoks are the product of the worst souls in humanity reincarnating into their next life; they were unsalvageable. Murderers. Rapists. People who had not even an ounce of empathy for their fellows. They’re monstrous patchworks of metal and animal, and their only instinct is to hurt and kill. Their riders and trainers can control them, but only by imposing their will and overcoming the instinct to murder. 

As Tamra and her protogee, Raia, discover more about their kehok… well, they also discover that whether or not they win the races has much more riding on it than they ever expected. 

Durst combines masterful pacing alongside some very solid prose to pack a full, epic adventure into a single volume. As someone who rarely has time for lengthy, multi-volume epic fantasy, this was novel truly hit the spot. Admittedly, there are a few loose ends left untied by the completion, but I found that both Tamra’s and Raia’s story arcs wrapped up in a way that was both satisfying and well-suited to the novel as a whole. 

Their dynamic was wonderful to see, especially as Raia gradually becomes an adopted daughter to Tamra. I’m a sucker for found family, and this was no exception. The themes of hope, rebirth, and catharsis are well-developed and reflected in each part of the story. 

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Sarah Beth Durst (Author of The Queen of Blood)

About the Author

Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of over twenty fantasy books for kids, teens, and adults, including SparkDrink 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.

Sarah was born in Northboro, Massachusetts, a small town that later became the setting for her debut novel. At the age of ten, she decided she wanted to be a writer. (Before that, she wanted to be Wonder Woman, except with real flying ability instead of an invisible jet. She also would have accepted a career as a unicorn princess.) And she began writing fantasy stories. She later attended Princeton University, where she spent four years studying English, writing about dragons, and wondering what the campus gargoyles would say if they could talk.

Sarah lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat.

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Published by Christine Sandquist

Christine Sandquist is an NYC-based sensitivity/developmental editor and author assistant to writers such as Hugo Award Winner Mary Robinette Kowal, World Fantasy Award Winner Tobias S. Buckell, and SOVAS Award Finalist Cadwell Turnbull. They specialize in analyzing and providing feedback on works that include diverse, queer casts, representations of sexual trauma, and broader gender-based violence. They are part of the team behind Reddit r/fantasy, the internet’s largest discussion forum for the greater speculative fiction genre.

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