This stand-alone fantasy blends classic horse-racing tropes with political fantasy and even a dash of Pokémon.
Those who live in the Becar Empire know that reincarnation exists. Those who are purest become augurs, able to read the past, present, and future of a person’s soul; good people are reincarnated as humans; those with more flaws spend their next incarnation as animals; and the irredeemable sinners spend eternity incarnating as kehoks, vicious, mindless, chimerical monsters. Kehoks cannot be tamed, but daring riders can control them mentally through force of will and race them while risking dismemberment and death both from their competitors and their own mounts. Former grand champion–turned–disgraced trainer Tamra Verlas needs a winning kehok-rider pair who will garner her the gold necessary to retain custody of her daughter. Raia hopes that a new life as a rider will allow her to hide from her parents, who have affianced her to a rich but cruelly dominating man. And the metallic lion kehok she learns to race seems to have his own ambitions and intelligence beyond his apparently brutish nature. Meanwhile, Becar roils with uncertainty, because Prince Dar cannot succeed his late older brother, Zarin, as emperor until he locates his predecessor’s current incarnation, even as the neighboring realm of Ranir threatens invasion. Of course, these plot elements dovetail in exactly the way you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean that the race to victory isn’t charmingly crafted and extremely enjoyable. Durst (The Deepest Blue, 2019, etc.) offers her patented mix of solid worldbuilding, characters with determination and heart, and a jab of violence to ensure that the result never cloys. Fans of Tamora Pierce’s strong female protagonists will also appreciate the tribute that Durst pays her in the acknowledgments, the character name “Tamra,” and the storytelling.
If mostly lacking surprises, still guaranteed to check the boxes for fans of fantasy and horse-riding novels.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 544
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020