Author: Sarah Beth Durst
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
(September 11, 2012)
In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale from the author of Drink, Slay, Love.Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry tribe, Liyana expects to die in the desert. Until a boy walks out of the dust in search of her.
Korbyn is a god inside his vessel, and a trickster god at that. He tells Liyana that five other gods are missing, and they set off across the desert in search of the other vessels. For the desert tribes cannot survive without the magic of their gods. But the journey is dangerous, even with a god’s help. And not everyone is willing to believe the trickster god’s tale.
The closer she grows to Korbyn, the less Liyana wants to disappear to make way for her goddess. But she has no choice: She must die for her tribe to live. Unless a trickster god can help her to trick fate—or a human girl can muster some magic of her own.
So in order to immerse myself into a novel with self-sacrificing characters, I knew I had to come to terms that it was the desert's people's way of life and they only way they knew how to survive for the next hundred-year cycle. I had to look at it this way or I would have gone mad thinking that all these crazy people were in accord with human sacrifice for the greater good. Which, I suppose, they are. What I enjoyed so much about this book was the fact that this little nugget of disturbance did not go unnoticed throughout the whole, and was addressed accordingly.
Liyana saw early on that in order for the children of her clan, the Goat Clan, to have a prosperous future, she had to sacrifice her body as vessel for their goddess, Bayla. After performing the summoning ceremony, having exhausted herself dancing for the goddess, she realizes that Bayla isn't coming. That begins the domino effect that keeps the ball rolling throughout the rest of the plot of the novel. Because of Bayla's nonattendance, Liyana's clan exiles her and soon after she encounters the trickster god of the Raven Clan, Korbyn. Between the two of them they must find the other unsuccessful vessels of the starving clans, figure out who is stealing the gods and goddesses from their clans, and how to get them back. The only lead they have is the direction of their enemy and that it leads them away from the desert.
My favorite aspect of this novel was not only the creativity behind the unique world building but also the focus that was put into the journey that the travelers faced and not the destination. The vessel characters that traveled across the desert to save their respective deities included serene Pia of the Silk Clan, bombastic Fennik of the Horse Clan and flighty Raan of the Scorpion Clan. These characters had as much a significant role to play as did Korbyn. I don't mention Liyana in that list because she plays a more important role later on in the novel when she becomes more the heroine of the story than just another vessel seeking her deity. Overall, it's astounding how much each character that this motley crew of vessels encounters influences the story line.
The maneuvering of obstacles and challenges presented in the plot was very evenly paced in Vessel, and I must credit Ms. Durst for accomplishing the installment of gods and goddesses roaming among humans. Another likable aspect I found when reading Vessel was the multitude of stories that were told about the history of the desert people. They gave the novel more of an established setting. Almost all of them depicted how something began or came to be in their world. And the stories weren't just read as tools to "fill in the blanks" about how the desert came to be, they were more of a traditional norm in how history was passed down from generation to generation. It also distinguished the "traditional" versus "modern" juxtaposition that occurs later on in the story when the "enemy" is introduced.
Finally, I have to mention how incredible the ending was for me because it included a little of "the circle of life" theme that most fantasy fiction novels don't tend to end with. When some of you read Vessel, you may not like it but I can see the hope and the second chance behind that little pool of water. (Plus, who doesn't like The Lion King?)