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.
As a professional trainer, Tamra was an elite kehok rider. Then a tragic accident on the track shattered her confidence, damaged her career, and left her nearly broke. Now Tamra 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.
Raia is desperate to get away from her domineering family and cruel fiancé. As a kehok rider, she could earn enough to buy her freedom. But she can’t become good enough to compete without a first-rate trainer.
Impressed by the inexperienced young woman’s determination, Tamra hires Raia and pairs her with a strange new kehok with the potential to win—if he can be tamed.
But in this sport, if you forget you’re riding on the back of a monster, you die. Tamra and Raia will work harder than they ever thought possible to win the deadly Becaran Races—and in the process, discover what makes this particular kehok so special.
This was my first Sarah Beth Durst book and I really enjoyed it. Going into it I wasn’t sure what to expect other than monster racing–and it was that–but it was also so much more.
The world-building in this is pretty great for a story that is not some sort of three volume epic. I appreciate that we’re thrown right into the thick of things right from the beginning, earning all about the monster racing and what the kehoks are as we follow Tamra and her journey to keep on racing. We also get a greater sense of the world and society when we meet Raia and learn she’s escaping an arranged marriage. I like that most of the world we learn organically through what’s happening and there’s not a ton of straight exposition. I also thought the entire idea of the kehoks and reincarnation was really intriguing. This is a society that basically runs on the fear of negative karma but folks somehow still find ways around it anyway or else everyone would just be nice all the time, right? I love how the system is there but it’s clear it doesn’t really work. Like a lot of systems.
Most of all, I really loved the characters in this. They’re good people at their core. Sure they might sometimes cut corners or do bad things, but they have a sense of right and wrong and don’t want to betray that just because looking the other way would be the easy thing to do. Tamra is willing to put her life on the line and that of being able to keep her daughter at one point. It’s a balancing act for her as she tries to do the right thing and also keep everything that is dear to her from harm. I loved the mentor/student relationship that Tamra and Raia have. I also think that Raia teaches Tamra a few things along the way. They both have fantastic story arcs but I do think Tamra’s is a little stronger as she started out much more cynical where as Raia was always a bit of an idealist despite her family being so horrible to her. I thought the other characters were great as well and there’s just a tiny bit of romance that was nicely done.
What seems like a story with very personal stakes–Tamra wanting to keep racing for her love of it but also for her livelihood and to be able to take care of her daughter–turns into something much bigger in scope as the story progresses. You also have Raia who is trying to escape a political marriage she wants nothing to do with. These are small stories. But then because they all come together, along with this new kehok, things quickly spiral into empire shattering stakes. I really love how this was done. Because we don’t forget about the small stakes while the bigger stuff is going on. It’s all entwined together so well. It’s a good reminder that bigger stories are made up of a lot of little stories and how important those little stories are. If it wasn’t for Tamra being so desperate and Raia also being desperate, they wouldn’t have found each other and the kehok which was what made the kehok’s mystery unfold the way it did. Without Raia and Tamra things would have went very differently. It also shows how much a difference it makes to have people who care and are willing to stand by and do the right thing even in the face of terrible odds. Faced with another rider and trainer there would have been no push for change. I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t talk about specifics, but suffice to say that this story is much bigger than how it starts out.
If I have one tiny niggling complaint it’s that everything seemed to happen too easily once things were in motion? Oh, we discovered this really bad thing that’s been going on forever and now we’ve fixed this ancient system, yay! I wish real life reform was that easy! 😉 But I also understand why the resolution had to happen so…quickly. Perhaps easy was the wrong term because there were some sacrifices made. That being said, this didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the book and it’s great message–a little beacon of hope that you can stamp out some of the corruption with the people in charge. I think that’s a the kind of hope we could all use right now. 4.5/5 stars.