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Book Review – Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

“On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family’s tent to see the dawn. She buried her toes in the sand, cold from the night, and she wrapped her father’s goatskin cloak tight around her shoulders. She had only moments before everyone would wake.”

Title: Vessel

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

Publication date: 9/11/2012

Format Read: Bought for Kindle

Synopsis:  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.

Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone

Why I picked this book up:  In the first place, I started to hear good things about this author in general and this book in particular before it was even out, mostly by YA bloggers.  The idea of desert tribes and mythology really intrigued me as very different and something that I might want to pick up.

Then I saw the cover.  Yes, yes, I know the old saying, but look at that cover!  It is gorgeous and different!  They had to have photographed it just for this book.  There is no way that this is a stock photo.  I absolutely love it and how it really conveys the atmosphere of the book!

Why I kept reading it:  This is the first book by Sarah Beth Durst that I have read and I must say, if her other books are even close to being as good as this one, I may just have to pick up more.  One of the things that can make or break a fantasy or sci-fi book for me is world building.  Durst excels at this.  For a book that takes place almost exclusively in a desert, Vessel has a lushness that can only come from characters that truly inhabit and love their surroundings.

Liyana is a wonderful main character.  She is strong, intelligent and devoted to her family, tribe and way of life.  Even knowing that, to become the vessel for her goddess, she must give up her own life, she goes willingly because it is what she believes is best to protect those she loves.  She is a fully formed character from page one and continues to grow and change in response to what she encounters on her journey.

Korbyn fights change, but being a trickster god in a human body, it is much harder for him than for the humans he encounters on their quest.  He is not always a likeable character and often his godhood causes him to make mistakes that a human might not have, but he is always interesting.  When he does change, it is natural and hard fought, not merely for the sake of the narrative.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the mythology.  At no time did I feel that the author was cheating by taking an existing mythology and merely changing the names to protect the innocent.  Yes, it does have a somewhat Native American feel to it, as well as elements from a couple of other pantheons, but it is unique and well established.  The use of fables throughout the story allows the reader to learn about the tribe’s beliefs without ever becoming preachy or falling prey to the dreaded info dump.

Unfortunately there are two place where I believe Vessel falls down.  The first is in some of the side characters.  The first step of Liyana and Korbyn’s quest is to locate the other vessels.  I liked that the reasons that vessels had for going through with what they were doing were all different (pride of being chosen, unquestioning rightness of religious obligation, even forced into it by the tribe), a couple of the vessels seemed to be a little two dimensional.  I would have liked to see a little more fleshing out of two or three of the characters.

The other place that was a little weak was some of the romance elements.  Some seemed to occur in a very organic fashion, others seemed a bit forced by the author because that is where she wants the characters to go whether they agreed or not. 

All in all, despite the few flaws I have pointed out, I throughly enjoyed this book!  I wanted to talk about it as soon as I was done with it and was sad when no one else in my acquaintance had read it.  I will most definately read it again soon in order to really soak up this rich and complex world!

Who I would recommend it to:  First, I would recommend it to my daughter Ehlanna and the daughter of all of my friends, because it is a great example of positive female role models.  I would also recommend it to anyone who shares my love of YA literature and mythology.

4 Stars

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