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Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

by Sarah Beth Durst


By: Sarah Beth Durst

Release Date: September 11, 2012

Rating: 3 Stars

Summary: 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.


Creatively, Vessel hits all the right notes. Combining an intriguing premise – a girl’s raised to be a vessel for her goddess but is instead abandoned by her deity and her tribe – with a vividly stark desert landscape and plenty of moral questions, Sarah Beth Durst has certainly written one of the most highly original books I’ve ever read. Yet at the same time, the somewhat lacking characters and shallow plot really torpedoed what could’ve been a great book for me.

My problem with the characters can pretty much be summed up in three words, engaging, empathy, and development. Liyana has a great story, almost her whole life, she’s been raised as a vessel, not expected to do anything except give her life so her goddess can take her body and use it to provide for her tribe, but she never engaged me. She’s described as a practical character with a wry sense of humor, but those moments are few and far between. In the meantime, she shows her practical side with some pretty mean feats of desert survival after she’s left to her own devices, but, as a practical person, she just does exactly what’s necessary to live. Sure, she fights against the forces of the desert, snakes and sand wolves, heat and thirst, but I never got a sense of the desperate struggle for survival that would’ve drawn me to her story because she’s so darn practical she has everything calmly taken care of almost as soon as the danger passes.

Her personal story too, it could’ve been deep and meaningful, but it never goes anywhere. How can anyone live knowing that her entire purpose in life is to die, that her entire tribe depends on her to die, just so her goddess can live? That should’ve been the central question in Vessel, but instead Liyana’s quest to find her goddess sucks so much air out of the story that her own personal feelings about her role remains one of resigned acceptance. Maybe it’s her practical character again, but I couldn’t empathize with her, never got a sense that even a small part of her wanted to live. The entire book turns on the morality of gods taking vessels, and yet the driving character, rather than weighing her life and her tribe’s survival, is just ok with the whole thing? And, as the story progresses, as Liyana’s confronted with differing points of view, as situations put her in the position to judge the gods themselves, she never has second thoughts? That lack of development was just hugely disappointing for me.

Actually, a lot of other things are glossed over too. The first half of the book is just Liyana and Korbyn going from tribe to tribe recruiting vessels to rescue their gods, but, like Liyana, none of the other vessels feel like fully a formed character. Sure, Fennik’s tough and dedicated to his god; Pia’s blind, an excellent singer, and even more dedicated to her goddess; while Raan’s the rebel with the drinking problem who doesn’t want to be a vessel, wants to live, but not only does the story feel really repetitive, going from one tribe to the next, Korbyn giving the same our gods have been kidnapped and we need your vessel to join us speech to the mistrusting chief of each tribe every time, Fennik, Pia, and Raan never gave me the impression there was any more to their characters than their dedication (or sacrilege, in Raan’s case) to their gods. Rather, they’re all a single motivation each and free of second thoughts. Only Korbyn really kept me reading, not only because I’m a huge fan of mischievous but generally well meaning trickster gods, but because of his complicated relationship with Liyana and her goddess Bayla, because he made the backstory of the gods and the world generally interesting with the myths and stories, and because he’s the only character, god or mortal, to really address the morality of taking vessels, balancing the good of the vessel with the good of the tribe.

I thought the story would improve once the vessels gather and head off to save the gods, but for me, Vessel’s second half is even more underwhelming than its first. Durst writes some pretty amazing scenes of the desert, that’s something she gets right, but the villain of the story, the Crescent Empire, just failed to impress me. Rather than being the rich, magnificent, or even militarily powerful realm like all the characters swear it is, it came across to me as some vague, amorphous political unit. Leaving the desert was like a night and day moment because the setting immediately went from interesting to a blank canvas. And the leader of this Empire, the Emperor, while I understood his motivations completely, his reasons for doing what he did, like many things about Vessel, was just shallow and leads into one of the most convenient relationships I’ve ever read. The entire time, I didn’t feel like the conflict with the Empire had the same tight focus or level of detail as the journey through the desert.

Despite its unique premise, Vessel is a decidedly average fantasy for me. Nothing about the characters made me particularly invested in their stories, and what enthusiasm I had for the fairly imaginative desert scenes dropped off as the book leaves that interesting world behind.
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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