Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The City of Brass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The City of Brass by S. A. ChakrabortyNahri doesn’t believe in magic. She has fooled too many marks with her palm readings, zars, and healings on the streets of 18th century Cairo to put any real stock in the supposed power behind them–especially when she knows the research and tricks she puts in beforehand.

Everything Nahri believes, or doesn’t believe, about magic is thrown into question when one of her rituals works. Well, technically it all goes horribly wrong.

But the magic Nahri is pretending to perform is suddenly, shockingly real and summons a djinn warrior to her. Along with Dara, the fearsome Afhsin warrior, Nahri summons a world of trouble as she attracts the attention of a djinn world she never thought to imagine let alone believe in.

Torn away from everything she’s ever known, Nahri and Dara travel across the desert to find Daevabad, the mythical city of brass that holds answers about Nahri’s past and might be the only place that can offer her safety.

Inside the city Nahri finds unrest among the six djinn tribes and political intrigue on all sides. With no one to trust and nothing familiar, Nahri will have to tread carefully as she tries to find her way in a world where it seems everyone is eager to use her so long as she doesn’t learn any of her new lessons too quickly or too well in The City of Brass (2017) by S. A. Chakraborty.

The City of Brass is the first book in Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy. The story continues in The Kingdom of Copper.

The City of Brass is a wild ride. The high action and breakneck pacing of the opening scenes contrast interestingly with Chakraborty’s prose which is dense and heavy but also unbelievably evocative and steeped in carefully researched and beautifully reimagined djinn lore. The plot slows considerably once Nahri and Dara arrive in Daevabad allowing readers to instead focus on the large and varied cast of characters including Ali Qahtani, the young and often naive prince of the city’s current ruler.

Given the long life of djinn and the rich history of their city, it’s no surprise that The City of Brass is populated by a multi-faceted cast of characters. While Ali is eager to see the world in black and white, he soon realizes as political unrest grows that Daevabad operates in areas of gray. Chakraborty embraces this fact and uses it well to balance characters’ flaws alongside their positives and, in some cases, their charisma. It is a testament to Chakraborty’s characterization that Dara’s past is soaked in blood but he remains my absolute favorite character (aside from Nahri, of course).

The City of Brass is a lush, unforgettable story filled with determined characters who are all certain they’ll be the heroes of this tale even as history proves again and again that someone always has to be framed as the villain. Ideal for readers looking for non-western fantasies, charming con artists, and adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Marad and Jared Shurin, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

The Queen of Sorrow: A Review

*The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen*

cover art for The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth DurstDaleina has always wanted to protect her homeland Aratay and the people who call the forests home even when it leaves her as the unlikely queen of the kingdom.

Naelin never wanted to be a queen despite her enormous power but willingly takes up the mantle when it means she’s be able to keep her children safe.

Now Aratay and its vicious spirits are torn between two queens with vastly different priorities.

Merecot has always known she was destined to be queen. When her candidacy as an Heir of Aratay is blocked she schemes to become queen of the mountainous kingdom of Semo instead. But Semo has too little land for its many spirits–something even a queen of Merecot’s caliber can’t control forever.

When Naelin’s children are kidnapped she knows that Merecot is to blame and is willing to go to any lengths to retrieve her children even if it means defying her co-queen Daleina and plunging both kingdoms into a costly war.

As Naelin searches for her children, Daleina struggles to hold the kingdom together, and Merecot draws all three queens toward a confrontation that could save both kingdoms. Or destroy them in The Queen of Sorrow (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen.

The Queen of Sorrow widely expands the world of Renthia as readers learn more about Merecot and Semo as well as the other neighboring kingdoms. This story shifts close third person perspective between characters across Renthia as they are drawn into a conflict that will forever change their world.

Durst expertly manages a large cast, numerous plot threads, and her complex world building to close out this high fantasy trilogy. With action, intrigue, and even some romance The Queen of Sorrow is the perfect conclusion to a powerful, must-read series that strikes the perfect balance between closure and hints of more to come. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Reluctant Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood*

“Everything has a spirit. … And those spirits want to kill you.”

Daleina spent years preparing to protect the people of Aratay as a Candidate and Heir. She was never the strongest, but she was one of the smartest and most determined. After the Coronation Massacre she was also the only Heir left alive to to take the throne. In the wake of the massacre that killed so many of her friends, Daleina is doing her best to be a good queen.

But there’s a problem.

Daleina is dying and as her health deteriorates so does her control over the spirits. All of Aratay is in danger until suitable Heirs can be chosen but after the massacre most of the candidates are perilously young and unprepared.

Naelin is neither of those things. She is powerful enough to be an Heir and the next Queen. She has also spent the past years at pains to make sure no one knows the full extent of her power–especially the spirits who would kill her for it. She has no desire to remove herself from her quiet life as a woodswoman with her husband and two young children.

Champion Ven found Daleina and believed in her abilities when no one else did, knowing that she would one day be a great Queen. He knows that the same is true for Naelin if only he can get her to see herself the way he does. As time runs out, both Daleina and Naelin will have to accept that saving everyone they love will require both women to risk everything in The Reluctant Queen (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy which began with The Queen of Blood (a 2017 Alex Award winner). This story starts several months into Daleina’s reign as Queen of Aratay when the kingdom should be calm. Instead, Daleina learns that she is fatally ill and has become her own kingdom’s greatest threat.

Durst expands the world of Renthnia in this story as Naelin and Daleina explore new parts of Aratay and look beyond its borders to Semo. The viewpoints in the story are also expanded with more from familiar characters like Ven as well as new characters like Naelin and her children.

This series is thick with action and tension. The stakes have never been higher for Daleina and Naelin (or for Aratay) as time runs out to find a cure for Daleina and prepare Naelin for everything being Queen requires. In this installment Durst thoughtfully explores the push and pull between duty to family versus larger responsibilities as Naelin tries to resign herself to her future as an Heir. Her dynamic with Daleina–Naelin’s opposite in many ways–adds an interesting dimension to the story as both women realize there is no right or easy way to wield power.

Durst has outdone herself with The Reluctant Queen. Its dramatic final act will leave readers anxious to see what the Queens of Renthia will face next. The Reluctant Queen effectively confirms that this series is a must for any and all high fantasy readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Queen of Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstThe land of Renthia has always had spirits. Tree spirits help plants grow and flowers bloom. Ice spirits change the seasons. Water, Fire, Air and Earth spirits control the elements. As much as the spirits create, they also yearn to destroy and rid the land of humans whose very existence interferes with nature.

Only women are born with an affinity to control the spirits and even then it is often a weak power commonly found in hedgewitches throughout the villages. Few are strong enough to enter the academies and train to become queen.

Queens in Renthia are incredibly powerful, binding the spirits to their will so that the spirits will not harm humans. Queens rarely have the chance to grow old. With so many threats, and such great need, young women are trained to become candidates and vie for prestigious positions as heirs so that no part of Renthia is ever left without a strong queen.

Daleina rarely lets herself think so far ahead. Instead she focuses on learning enough to use her gift to protect her family and the rest of Aratay. Ven, a disgraced champion, fights the spirits on the outskirts of Aratay as their attacks become bolder and more frequent.

Ven and Daleina are unlikely heroes and strange allies. It will take both of their unique talents to discover the insidious root of the increasing attacks and save Aratay before the spirits’ thirst for blood grows even stronger in The Queen of Blood (2016) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Blood is the start of Durst’s adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

Set in the kingdom of Aratay, this story begins when Daleina is a child and follows her through adulthood (she is nineteen by the end) as she learns more about how to control the spirits and chases her dream of protecting Aratay.

Written in close third person point of view, The Queen of Blood mostly focuses on Daleina’s story although other chapters follow Ven and other relevant characters. While there is a subtle romance element, this story primarily focuses on the cost (and threat) of power as well as its incredibly capable heroine.

Durst presents an intricate and well-realized world filled with brutal spirits and villages that sprout from trees in a vast forest. Careful attention to detail and complex characters make this a multi-dimensional and thoughtful high fantasy novel. Durst also avoids the trap of creating an overwhelming white fantasy world with a cast that is as varied and surprising as one would expect from an imagined world.

While the backdrop and plot of The Queen of Blood are immediately engrossing, Daleina remains the true heart of this novel. Unlike many heroines, Daleina has no illusions about her strength and power. She knows that her road to train to become an heir (or even queen) will not be easy. Her power is hard-won and she is not always the best or even the strongest. But, like many young women, Daleina is sincere, kind, and inventive–traits that are not always seen together in one character.

The Queen of Blood is a complex and nuanced high fantasy novel filled with unexpected twists, clever characters, and a rich world. This scintillating series starter is a must-read for fantasy readers who will surely be waiting eagerly for the next installment. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this novel!