Monday, February 25, 2013
Pages: 424 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Margaret K. McElderberry
Liyana has always held a unique position within the nomadic desert tribe which are her family and her world: she is a vessel, marked as special by the goddess of her tribe from birth. As a vessel, Liyana knows and accepts that she is destined to die so that her goddess may inhabit her body and bring peace and all-important rain to her people. But when the goddess Bayla fails to come during the long-awaited summoning ceremony, Liyana despairs that she must not be worthy-- and her tribe, despairing over the famine which will surely destroy them, abandons the would-be goddess girl in the desert to fend or die for herself.
Joined by Korbyn, a powerful trickster god in the body of a handsome young vessel who promises to help Liyana save her tribe by sacrificing herself, Liyana sets off across the desert in search of those other vessels whose gods failed to show up. But as she discovers her own strength, bravery, and a tentative romance with Korbyn, Liyana begins to have rebellious thoughts: she isn't so sure she wants to die so that her goddess can live, or that any desert teenager should have to make such a sacrifice.
This is the first book I've read by Sarah Beth Durst, but I will definitely be interested to check out the (apparently numerous) other novels she has out there. Vessel has a really unique premise and world setting-- the desert lands of Liyana's and the other tribes make for a harsh and forbidding lifestyle. The tribes tell stories of gods and goddesses who are very human-- they fight and love and even inhabit the bodies of young humans called vessels. Without the help of their gods, the clans would perish from drought and famine. Meanwhile, the more "civilized" Crescent Empire is also in the midst of a great famine and their young emperor has a vision that the empire's salvation might be found in the unlikely locale of the barren desert. Durst does a really excellent job introducing us to Liyana's life and world, where magic is as real as the deadly sand wolves which stalk tribal camps and family is everything.
Moving onto the characters... Liyana is that rare female YA protagonist who I didn't have any major peeves with. She is sort of indoctrinated with the belief that her life is meant to be given to her goddess and that she is a failure when the goddess does not come to inhabit her body, but in the context it totally makes sense that she would have this kind of calm acceptance towards the sacrifice she must make. Her family and clan are everything to her and vessels are so much a part of her culture that she knows her intended role very well. As she meets Korbyn and they go off in search of the other vessels, it becomes clear that Liyana is more than the girl chosen for her "flawless" prettiness so that the goddess would be pleased with her. Here we have a strong heroine who is not afraid to take action or reckless chances when she must-- oh, very good!
The other vessels in the novel besides Liyana are all very different from one another, in how they react to their gods' not showing up: one girl dreams of running away to the empire, where she will not be forced to give up her life for her goddess's, while another peacefully accepts her fate. Korbyn, the trickster god inhabiting a desert boy's body, is the stand-out character apart from Liyana. He is not just a supernatural pretty boy thrown in as a love interest (yay, for divergent YA!), and is definitely not your conventional love interest. I was very surprised, but basically happy, with the way the romantic sub-plot turned out in this book. But yeah, Korbyn was pretty awesome.
The pacing of Vessel was not so fast-- probably just quick enough to keep a reader's interest, but my growing love for the characters was enough to make me read on despite some occasional slooow moments. All in all, my consensus is just that Sarah Beth Durst clearly has a spectacular imagination. She has taken a completely unique story in an unconventional setting, created a whole huge mythology for this world, and then created lovable and strong characters to interact with a intriguing plot. This is how one crafts a great YA fantasy novel-- 5 stars!