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Friday, April 5, 2013

VESSEL by Sarah Beth Durst [review]

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
Get It | Add It
424 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry
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.

Okay, so what had happened was, I wrote a very glowing review of this last year after I read it, and apparently somewhere along the line, it got deleted. Couldn't tell you when, as it was around the holidays that it would have gone up (and who can focus on anything except yummy turkey dinners (mmm, gravy!*), ugly holiday sweaters and family dramz around the holidays?); all I know is that I went to link to it for something a few weeks ago and noticed it was no more. =/ (Fortunately I still had my vlogged mini-review of it & best of 2012, where it easily made the list. But still. frowny face)
[*But seriously, though? I am a gravy MASTER. So full of yumz, you want to pour that shiz on everything.]

I was going to try to rewrite it right then, but then I realized that, though it's not a fairy tale retelling, it has a strong folklore and mythology basis and style to it that actually makes it a really good fit for FTF!
And here we are.
So though it's now been months since I read this, and I'm sure I was dazzlingly witty the first time around, I'm just going to give you guys a quick  rundown of why I think this book is awesomesauce, and you should pick it up.

I have to start, of course, with the world building, which is such a stunner that I'm pretty sure it will be what comes to mind first for just about everybody. It was so amazingly strong, detailed and unique; I think Durst really did a knockout job of creating a world that felt complete and utterly fascinating. It manages to be both realistic and completely fantastical; because Durst really built the world from the ground up, history and all, there's a really strong foundation that the story is rooted in, which allows the more fantastical elements to kind of play on top of that. Its strong real-world basis - a culture which felt really believable, with authentic customs, superstitions and interactions and a strong folkloric feel - just lures you right in, and makes you see everything that's going on, and the layering of the mythos on top of that was flawless. And the truly amazing thing, is that all of this fantastic world-building is done with almost no info-dumping. Everything about it just feels so utterly natural - from the first page, you're immediately plunged into this world that just feels right, and you don't even have to think about it. There's no overly-detailed infodump, and there's no confusion - just a beautifully realized world to immerse yourself in. The religion and fantasy elements Durst has created are unique and executed really well, and I think even if I hadn't connected to the characters, I still would have loved this book on the strength of the world alone.

But I did love the characters! The main character, Liyana, is easily one of my absolute fave female leads of recent memory. The same is true of the male lead, Korbyn. I defy you not to love Liyana and Korbyn. But it's not just them - I like even the not-likable characters. All of their interactions; their individual strengths and weaknesses; the way they related to their worlds, religions, clans and each other; they way they fit as pieces in the larger puzzle - all of it worked brilliantly for me. There's a perfect amount of different types of tension (a ticking clock, looming war, romantic tension and the kind that comes when clashing personalities have to work together), and it made for a really compelling reading experience that I could feel. I love it when a book makes me physically feel something.

There was a slight bobble at the end, when things began to feel a little more rushed or just...not as strong as the rest of an otherwise extremely strong book, I guess?  But I still endorse it wholeheartedly; it ticks all of my boxes for a stand-out, reread-worthy fantasy:
  • Compelling world building with a believable real-world basis ✓
  • Believable, intelligently conceived and carried-out mythology and history  ✓
  • Thoughtfulness and complexity  ✓
  • Unique "visual" elements, like sandwolves (ie, they are literally sand-wolves - they show up in sandstorms, and howl in the howling wind!) and flying glass serpents  ✓
  • Strong, intelligent, competent female lead  ✓
  • Intriguing male lead (who happens to be a trickster god!)  ✓
  • a "love" story (dare I say, a triangle, even) that is complex and lacking in foregone conclusions  ✓
  • Memorable-ness  ✓
  • and tension, tension, glorious TENSION  ✓
Durst gets stronger with every book, in my opinion, and has become one of my top authors to watch. In fact, you should stop reading this, and start reading Vessel. Now.

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Credit to these awesome Deviants for our button [ 12 & 3]!


  1. Oh I so want this one! I never saw a review of this one though I saw it on a lot of people's TBR lists. You've convinced me. Is it a series?


  2. Just read Vessel and totally enjoyed it. I picked it up because I was intrigued by the setting, though not really sure if I'll like it. The end result? It blew my mind. I certainly didn't expect to like it that much - but I'm so glad I did!


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