Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands is a standalone fantasy novel set in a world where everyone is reincarnated after death, whether it is as an animal, insect, or a horrifying monster. People spend their lives having their auras read to determine if they are on the right path, and the worst thing that can happen to someone is that they are reborn as a kehok, an unnatural monster from the desert.

Of course, humans are still humans, so they have found a way to use those kehoks to supply entertainment for the masses. Some brave few will take their chances and ride these murderous beasts on a race track to seek fame and fortune. A former kehok rider, Tamra, is now a down-on-her-luck trainer who really needs a win in order to pay her daughter’s school fees — or they will take her away forever. Raia is running from her awful family and needs to find a safe place for herself, and maybe being a kehok rider will the the change she needs.

The country is in turmoil after the death of the Emperor and the Emperor-to-Be cannot be crowned until the reincarnated former Emperor is found. Without a proper Emperor, there can be no treaties and no new public works, and the economy is stalling. With the high intensity of the races combined with the high anxiety of the masses, the whole situation is ready to explode.

I really enjoyed the world-building created in this book — the whole society is bound up in reincarnation, and everyone is obsessed with making sure they are reincarnated as something good. The very hint of a rumor that your soul is unclean can be your ruin, and of course it leads to discrimination. The plot is pretty well-crafted once it starts to unfold. A lot of fantasy novels nowadays are multi-volume, highly plotted, twisty stories where the author tries to get in as much shock-and-awe as we can take, but this standalone is a pretty straight-forward fantasy romp and I appreciated that a lot.

I think if you enjoy the straightforward language in Brandon Sanderson’s novels, you will enjoy Race the Sands.

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