Monday, May 13, 2013

May 2013 Book Review of the Month: Vessel


By Sarah Beth Durst
~Book Review~

I'M USED to reading books fast. Might have something to do with the library I'm expected to read for grad school. In days past, I may have had more time, but now I read with one eye on the clock, conscious that in another hour, I will have to go to work, school, cook, clean, whatever. 

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst stops that clock. It forces you to read slowly. The world unfolds from the small patch of sand upon which Liyana’s Goat Tribe lives to reveal a lavishly-imagined desert where glass serpents ripple across the sky, and an empire is slowly but surely encroaching upon the border.

The mythology at work is a pleasant surprise—an original pantheon of gods, one for each tribe of the desert, who bring rain and blessings to the people by entering a mortal body. The one problem—the person of that chosen "body" dies. It is a sacrifice for the greater good of the people, in a communal-based society where emphasis is less on “self” and more on “helping others,” and heroine Liyana feels fully ready to become her goddess’s vessel.

But then her goddess doesn’t show. When it quickly becomes apparent that her goddess isn’t the only one missing, Liyana sets out to sacrifice for her people in a different way than originally intended—not by easily giving up the reins to some supreme higher being, but by making the tough choices, passing judgment, and living with the consequences of her decisions.

And such decisions she makes! I truly appreciated that Liyana wasn’t a passive, but an “active” heroine, who takes on a leadership role among the group of other vessels searching for their gods. Her companions sounded fascinating and all received strong introductions—blind Pia has a beautiful singing voice and is unshakable in her faith, while stubborn Raan questions why she should have to die for her goddess without a choice, without protest. Korbyn, a trickster god, entertains with tales of his past misdeeds, and Jidali, Liyana’s younger brother, is an adorable scene-stealer.

However, the storyline felt unevenly divided into two separate parts; the first one is powerful and engaging, but the second one introduces a main character too late in order to feel sympathetic for him. More time is spent focusing on a love triangle that feels out of placewhat with the story’s main focus being finding the godsand it almost seems as if Durst felt “required” to have the mandatory two love interests because of YA trends these days. As such, our earlier well-developed companions slip out of the story too soon, and a villain is introduced too late, with motivations that feel a tad cartoonish. Durst tries to bridge the two parts by having POVs from the empire early on, but they simply aren’t as compelling as Liyana and her companions’ journey through the desert.

All in all, these qualms are easily shrugged off in light of the fascinating world-building and fierce fortitude of Liyana. I enjoyed picturing the jeweled sky serpents circling her above and the huge sand worms tunneling down below. It was a welcome stretch of the legs outside of typical feudal Western Europe: values are different, and Liyana challenges the empire’s assumptions that the rooted life is vastly better than the nomadic one. I look forward to more from this author.

Recommended for fans of Tamora Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater. 

1 comment:

  1. i'm fighting the urge to get this book, i just wasn't sure yet....