Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. She will dance and summon her tribe's deity, who will inhabit Liyana's body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But when the dance ends, Liyana is still there. Her tribe is furious--and sure that it is Liyana's fault. Abandoned by her 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. 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."
Review: This book was a flying cobra snake. I don't know how else to put it. It was different and exciting and wonderfully suspenseful. It completely captivated me. I read the whole thing in just a couple of sittings. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about it. Always a good sign! If you're looking for an original fantasy standalone book, this is definitely a solid choice!
Liyana was such a wonderful protagonist. If I had to pick three adjectives to describe her, they would probably be pragmatic, gutsy, and strong-hearted. She makes brave and difficult choices, not recklessly or because she has a hero complex, but rather because she simply uses her head and makes what she believes to be the best choice, regardless of whether others agree with her. Regardless of whether deities agree with her. She is smart and competent and loving, and I loved reading about her.
Characterization was pretty great across the board, actually. The other vessels were each their own characters, distinct from everyone else, with their own voices and mannerisms and conflicting opinions. The only character that I was slightly disappointed with was Korbyn. As the trickster god, I had hoped that he would be, well, trickier. I liked him just fine, and his story was fun to read about, I just wished for more surprises from the god of tricks.
I loved how Durst created the religion of the desert clans. Religious myth plays a huge role in their culture, and many of these stories were told several times throughout this book. Rather than bore me, I thought it strengthened the worldbuilding, grounded the characters, and often came into play in the characters' decision making throughout the novel. Plus, the stories were short and fun and interesting to read about. The interaction between the deities and the vessels fascinated me. There were some really interesting moral questions raised, and I applaud the novel for asking them. I wished the novel hadn't tried so hard to answer them, though. In my opinion, asking hard questions is a sign of a great novel. Answering those questions, however, is the reader's job, not the book's. That's just my opinion, though.
I was reminded of Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns series more than once while reading Vessel. The dessert setting is familiar, of course, but I also felt like Elisa and Liyana would have been friends. They both have strong wills and large hearts and make fabulous leaders. If you're a fan of Rae Carson then I definitely recommend picking up this book!
Between Sarah Beth Durst and Rae Carson, I think a new subgenre of fantasy has been created: Desert Fantasy. (Because it takes place in the desert. Yes, I came up with that creative title all by myself, why do you ask?) Something about shifting the setting from a more typical medieval-esque setting to the desert changes the whole feel of the story. There are fantastical creatures, to be sure, but not the dragons or trolls or elves that you might expect. In the desert there are sand wolves and glass serpents and giant silk worms that can swallow a grown human whole. Desert creatures are not for the faint at heart.
My quibbles with this book are very small. Korbyn could have been trickier and the romance could have been smaller, and the book as a whole could have used a little more humor. But these are all very minor issues. The ending was thrilling and satisfying, and just slightly bittersweet. I left the book feeling content and so glad I had read it. On the whole, I had a really great experience reading Vessel!
Bottom Line: Unique and engaging, this book asks hard questions and entertains along the way. Definitely worth the read, especially if you're a Rae Carson fan!