11 October 2012

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst


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.
When Vessel first caught my eye some months ago, I dismissed it.  What a mistake.  Sarah Beth Durst captured what I love most about fantasy with her impressive command of prose, instantly likable main character, and beautifully defined world.  I had a hard time tearing myself away to do normal things, like I don't know, eat and sleep and other silly things like that.  I was so firmly rooted in the story that my soul wept knowing that there wasn't a sequel.  Vessel was just that amazing.

Tamora Pierce called it right when she blurbed, "Unique and breathtaking..."  The beauty and simplicity of the opening line caught me right away:
On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family's tent to see the dawn.
Sarah Beth Durst carries the story along with a beautifully exotic, yet easy to understand writing style.  It's straightforward and reminds me of Maria V. Snyder's style -- how the sentences are short, but not truncated.  It complements the characters and plot well by enhancing the atmosphere rather than getting in the way.

Durst also shows a command of story.  When Liyana is abandoned by her tribe, Durst is able to maintain interest even when Liyana isn't interacting with another character.  I was expecting a slump, because it's typical to see a character's inner self displayed by how they react to others, but there was plenty of conflict, both internal and external.  It was at that point that my interest in Vessel doubled.  It only got better the deeper into the story I got.  And not only story, but world.  The world-building was incredible.  Complex, yet easy to understand, the stakes were clearly defined and I felt, right along with the characters, the dread of what could happen if the worst occurred.  I loved the extra details: the stories, the gods, the destinies.  All these fun things that don't really happen outside of a fantasy novel.

Liyana was a stellar character.  (In fact, all the characters were very defined, with character specific dialogue.)  I loved Liyana from page one, and felt immense sympathy for her when her tribe left her -- which occurred within the first few chapters, generally too soon for me to form an attachment to a character.  Also, I never grew irritated with her because it seemed that all of her actions were well-defined by a clear thought process alongside consistent and believable motivations.  She was feisty and a quick thinker.  Possibly one of my new favorite characters.

Out of everything that made this novel unique to me, the romance stuck out the most.  When Sarah Beth Durst described, in an interview with Simon & Schuster, how the romance in her novel was very natural, I didn't quite believe her.  Now, after having experienced Vessel for myself, I realize how right she was.  It didn't feel superficial to me; there was no instant gratification.  And overall, the romance was intensely bittersweet, but it built and progressed at a natural pace.

It's amazing to me that Durst could tie up an entire story within four hundred pages.  It's strange to me to see a stand alone fantasy book, and it made me sad to let go of the story so quickly!  While some of the action scenes could've been refined to show more depth and clarity, the plot progressed smoothly and built the stakes higher and higher until my fingers were clenched around the book in anticipation for the conclusion.  

Vessel was an amazing story.  I must have it for my shelves.

Quotes
She'd heard a tale once about a man who had caught the first drop of sun.  He'd kept it inside his lantern, and he never felt fear again.  In his seventieth year, he was struck by a cobra, and he embraced the snake and called him brother -- and then he died.  Liyana thought he should have sliced the snake's head off so at least the cobra wouldn't bite the man's family, too, but then again Mother always said Liyana had a decidedly practical streak in her. (p. 2)
"What is the truth?" she asked.  She wished she could suck the words back in.  It wasn't her place to ask to hear divine truths.  She wondered what sort of secrets were in his mind -- and what kind of horrors. He had seen generations of humans with their flaws and their failures.  She wondered how she measured up against the thousands of lives that he had seen come and go. (p. 78)
Book Info
  • pages - hardcover, 424
  • published - September 2012
  • publisher - McElderry Books
  • genre - fantasy
  • received via - library :)
  • rating - 5/5