Rummanah Aasi
 Ever since I've seen the beautiful cover of Vessel and read the intriguing premise of the book, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book. Often times beautiful book covers had led me astray, but Vessel did not. Brilliantly riveting and completely unique, Vessel, is one of my favorite fantasy reads from 2012.

Description (from Goodreads): 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.

Review:  On the surface, Vessel is a fantasy novel about a girl whose destiny is thwarted and must now find  her own way to help her people, but it can also be read as a parable about one's rite of passage to adulthood. Liyana, like everyone else in her clan, has accepted her tribe's way of life, their beliefs and traditions. She fully accepts her responsibilities of becoming a vessel allowing her goddess to possess her body in order to save the lives of her clan from the Great Drought that has plagued their land. Though she does not want to die, Liyana is fully aware that her one sacrifice can save many and isn't that a good reason enough? Despite a flawless summoning dance with a pure heart and intention, the goddess Bayla doesn't come as expected and thus puts everything that Liyana has been taught and told into question for the first time.
  The world building of Liyana's world is astounding. I applaud the author for going outside of the Euro-centric box for the setting of her novel. The idea of gods using human bodies as their vessels may be completely off putting, but Durst crafts compelling folktales that not only enhance her premise but draws you into her story. Take for example how the idea of Vessels came to be: A thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and divided into several clans. As you can image living in a desert isn't very easy and many people died in the harsh climate. Those souls of the first dead wandered around our world until they found the Dreaming, i.e. the afterlife, where they remained and could not rest in peace because they saw how their people suffered in the desert. And so the souls of the dead ancestors, using the magic of the Dreaming, created the Gods – one for each clan. And now, every hundred years they send the Gods’ souls to walk around their people so they can help them survive and the only way for the gods can come to their clan is through the bodies of a vessel, a person who has connections to the Dreaming and to magic. It is this set up that makes us understand why it is extremely vital that these vessels must believe that the desert clans cannot survive without the magic of their Gods and they must die so that the clans can carry on living, but can these statements be upheld?
 As the story progresses, we not only discover why the gods are absent, but also meet vessels and of course the gods themselves. The vessels themselves are of various faiths: there are those who are blind followers, devout believers of their Gods, and even those who do not want to die or even care about their Gods. The Gods are also depicted in a similar fashion, some are benevolent while others who see their vessels as just an object to be possessed. Although we get to see a lot of the various gods throughout the story, the better developed deity is Korbyn who balances the desires of the gods and the vessels quite nicely. I found myself fascinated with these characters and I couldn't help but wonder if the gods even needed the bodies of the vessel to work their magic? Aren't gods suppose to have unlimited power? 
  The premise of Vessel lends itself to great discussions about tradition, faith, destiny and survival. The presence of the Emperor, a young, charismatic leader, brings a bit of politics to the table as well: should all the peoples unite against a common enemy? Or should they fight for their independence no matter what? What sacrifices are you willing to make as a leader and to whose benefit? There is no easy solution to these questions and as such none is presented here.
  There is also an incredible amount of importance given to stories and storytelling within this world. The tales refer back to how we use myths and stories to make sense of our world, but are they suppose to be taken as truths or lessons? And if so, what lessons are you suppose draw from them?
    In addition to the incredible premise and masterful world building, the characters are phenomenal: our protagonist Liyana, the big-hearted trickster god Korbyn, the other vessels Pia, Fennick, Raan, and the mysterious Emperor himself. Liyana is a heroine that I instantly loved and it was so hard to see her being tested constantly in so many ways throughout the book. Right from the start, she is abandoned by her clan (but given the tools to survive by her loving family) and abandoned by her goddess. Though it was very easy for her to given up hope and accept her fate, she fights to stay alive. Even when she is joined by the trickster god Korbyn, Liyana remains calm and in control, grounded in her own sense of self and always remembering her job as a vessel. While some readers disliked Liyana for being so practical, I loved this about her. I'm so tired of reading heroines who make stupid decisions to put themselves in harm or who are recklessly impulsive. Liyana thinks things through, evaluating different situations and then takes logical steps. I also loved how her perceptions of both her world and herself change over the course of the novel. The once fatalistic Liyana now clings stubbornly to her desire to live along with coming to terms of her faith.
  The other vessels are brought to life and given depth. Fennick is the stubborn and brawny warrior with a heart of gold. Pia is the beautiful and ironically blind songstress who is a spoiled princess at first, but a true pure and perceptive soul.  Korbyn is the beguiling trickster who never fails to charm us with his charismatic personality and who also comes to care for Liyana as more than just the vessel for his beloved Bayla. Raan is the fiesty and the realist of the group and serves as the catalyst to Liyana's own personal growth. Raan is the only one that voices her defiance of being a vessel, who questions why she must die and plays an important role during the book's pivotal climax. The mysterious Emperor is an interesting leader who is a foil to Liyana's own leadership skills. While I did like learning about the Emperor, I wished he was a bit more fleshed out which prevented me from giving this book a five star rating. 
   Like the plotting, the romance of Vessel is complicated yet satisfying as feelings and relationships shift throughout the story. While the romance angle is present, it does not overwhelm Liyana's important journey. Thankfully, she remains a level headed, intelligent heroine who doesn't give up her senses because of a good looking boy. The pace of the book gradually increases as you learn more about Liyana's world and her true limitations. If you put aside the fantastical premise, Liyana's eye-opening journey, both literal and metaphorical, is something that any reader can identify. Vessel is a fabulous book that wraps up nicely in the end, leaving us a bit disappointed about not being able to revisit Durst's wholly original and utterly memorable world.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and sensuality. Recommended for Grades 7 and up.

If you like this book try: Seven Kingdom series by Kristin Cashore, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
6 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Wow Rummanah! That was a heck of a review! I've seen this one around but haven't given all that much thought to reading it, but after your thoughts? I can't not pick it up. I need this amazing heroine and a romance that is prominent without being overwhelming. Can't wait to give this one a try!

  2. Really awesome review. I'm not sure this is the book for me, though. May be too much fantasy, but I'm intrigued.

  3. This is the second review I have read on and this and I am convinced I must read this. The story sounds so orginal and intriguing! I like that this is such a strong departure from her previous book! Thanks for reminding me to get this one!

  4. Candace Says:

    I have wanted to read this, and I admit, a lot of my reason was because of the gorgeous cover. But your review makes me desperate to read it for the story. I will definitely be watching for this, I do love my fantasy!

  5. I just finished the Seven Kingdoms books AND Seraphina, and I am defintiely in the mood for more. I noticed this cover before, but I knew nothing about the book. OFf to find a copy right this second.
    Thank you for the lovely review!

  6. I love fantasies, especially when the worldbuilding is exquisite and the "level headed, intelligent heroine doesn't give up her senses because of a good looking boy." And, it's rare that I read a book that I not only love but gets me to think about things beyond the novel itself. So, I'll definitely be reading this one, Rummanah. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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