Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review: VESSEL by Sarah Beth Durst

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.
I'm sorry, I'm going to need a moment. I had hoped that Vessel was going to be at least passably good. And it was. Better than passably good, actually. However, I didn't expect to be pulled into such a cascade of emotions!

The book opens with Liyana as she watches her last sunrise. Every one hundred years, the gods of the land leave their world (called the Dreaming) and descend to earth to fill specially chosen people called vessels. They then use that body to perform miracles on behalf of their tribes to enable the people to live for the next one hundred years in the harsh desert. Liyana is her tribe's vessel and today is the day that she sacrifices her life for the sake of the tribe.

At least, that was the plan.

Emotion #1: Relief. Bayla, Liyana's goddess, didn't come. Liyana danced perfectly throughout the night, but by the next sunrise, she was still Liyana. I was thrilled. Within the first 20 pages, I'd fallen in love with both Liyana and her family, especially her little brother Jidali. I didn't want her to be taken from them.

Emotion #2: Rage. Quick turnaround, yeah? Well, after Bayla fails to appear, Liyana's tribe ditches her in the desert so they can go and find another vessel. The argument is that if Liyana has truly done nothing wrong, Bayla will save her. But if Liyana has angered Bayla, she deserves to die. Understandably, Liyana's family does not take this decision well. Neither did I, though I knew it was inevitable.

Emotion #3: Approval. Understand that while I'll move onto other emotions, my approval will continue to linger, because Liyana is consistently awesome. Even as her tribe abandons her and she struggles with overwhelming fear and despair, she never loses her cool. Later in the book, she'll prove that she can fight with the best of them, but Liyana's real strength is her brains. She is practical and logical throughout, and I ADORE that in a heroine.

Emotion #4: Deja vu. As you know from the synopsis, Liyana finds aid in the form of Korbyn, a vessel-god from a neighboring tribe. He's a trickster god whose totem is a raven. I was having massive Tamora Pierce flashbacks. While Korbyn is certainly no Kyprioth (and no Eugenides either), he's very enjoyable in his own sweet way. Still, why are tricksters almost ALWAYS linked with ravens?

Emotion #5: Curiosity. I was so excited when Korbyn and Liyana set off to rescue the other abandoned vessels. Ms. Durst builds a fantastic world and accompanying mythology, and I enjoyed exploring every inch. Through Liyana's eyes, we see the beauty of her harsh desert home and meet its varied inhabitants. I wanted to know more about the different tribes, about the deities, about the mountains, about the other vessels, about everything!

Emotion #6: Irritation. Just as I'm getting settled, Ms. Durst hit me with double shots of irritation. What? Who is this emperor guy? Why am I getting chapters from his point of view? Do not want! And then, when we meet the other vessels, I nearly keeled over with frustration. They're so annoying!

Emotion #7: Horror/Sadness. I obviously can't give details, but Vessel genuinely startled/horrified/saddened me in places. Bad stuff happens, both to Liyana and to the other vessels (including Korbyn). But that's when I also started to feel...

Emotion #8: Awe. I was saddened by things that happened to those whiny, awful vessels? Yes! Though they were annoying, they were still well-rounded people, and I felt their pain when certain events occurred. Yes, even when bad things happened to the drunken, selfish Raan. (Okay, ESPECIALLY when they happened to the drunken, selfish Raan.) Once I recognized my own emotional u-turn, I was awed at how easily I had been manipulated.

Emotion #9: Frustration. There's something that happens in the middle of the book that changes the entire equation. It really ratcheted up the conflict, so much so that I had to walk away from the book! I wanted so badly for things to work out well for Liyana, but everything and everyone seemed to be stuck in her way.

Emotion #10: Trepidation. There's no way it can work out for Liyana and Korbyn. Between the emperor, the sky serpents, and everything else, I can't see a way out. Doom. DOOOOOOM!!!

Emotion #11: Acceptance. I won't give away the ending, and I can't promise it'll make everyone happy. However, I can safely say that I was okay with it. It wasn't a happily ever after, but it wrapped everything up nicely and offers the reader a bit of hope.

So there you have it. If you want a book with engaging characters, an original plot, and a beautiful setting, and you're in the mood to feeeeeel things, pick up Vessel ASAP.

Points Added For: Liyana and her awesomeness, Jidali, the desert setting, deftly unraveling the conflict between individual needs and communal needs, a fantastic mythology.

Points Subtracted For: Several plot holes, a not-entirely-believable romance.

Good For Fans Of: Mythology, polytheistic societies, clever and practical heroines with a plan.

Notes For Parents: Violence, death, kissing. (Possibly language, but I don't remember.)

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