Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

I picked up Vessel in the store because the cover caught my eye.  Not only is it very attractive, but, amazingly, it is not whitewashed.  I checked out the first chapter, and bought it that day.

Vessel

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.

Vessel is an overall solid YA fantasy book with a gorgeous cover and an interesting premise. I was immediately drawn in by the first chapters, where Liyana prepares to sacrifice herself for her clan in a ceremony that will kill her so that a goddess can take over her body and save her clan from drought. Her relationship with her clan and the sorrows and joys they had over the ceremony were richly drawn in my opinion.

When the goddess does not come, she is cast aside by her tribe due to their belief that the goddess did not find her worthy and that a new vessel will please her enough to save them. Shortly after she is left behind and faces the dangers of the desert alone, she is found by a god-in-a-vessel, Korbyn, the trickster god.

I’m not sure I ever bought Korbyn as the trickster god. Or maybe current perceptions of how trickster gods should act and talk in fiction have influenced my assumptions about such a character. At times it felt like Korbyn was only the trickster god because it made it harder to convince others that he was telling the truth and because his stories could be more interesting that way. I can only think of one time when he “tricked” anyone, and, really, it was no more deceptive than anyone infiltrating an enemy camp would have thought of. More often than not, he seemed to play the “wise, old mentor/guide” role we often see in fantasy

The world-building in the book was pretty impressive, in my opinion. I felt like a lot of time was spent on building the world and the clans’ relationships, their relationship (or lack thereof) with the empire beyond the desert, and especially the myths. I also like how sometimes the myths were completely true, then other times the myths were simply stories. The only time I felt really confused by the world-building/myths/actions of the gods was in the climax. I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, what rules they were following, how they were affecting anything, etc.

Another point of note is how the different clans reacted differently to their gods not coming. One drowned their sorrows in liquor, one killed their vessel in revenge, one seemed more reverent with the vessel singing about it, one met any intruders with suspicion and lied about what had happened. Of course, Liyana’s tribe’s answer was to move on and try again.

On the other hand, meeting each of these tribes seemed to slow down the pacing of the novel. It was pretty standard fantasy fare. We visit each tribe and find out how they’re different from the others: how their setting is different, how their culture is different, how they react to strangers and other vessels and other gods (and so we end up with some stereotypical fantasy characters: the warrior, the princess, the rebel; plus a hero, Liyana, and a wizard, Korbyn). In between, Korbyn uses magic to help them survive the desert, then gets weary, and he and Liyana joke around and fall for each other.

The second half focuses more on the “enemy” of the Empire. We’ve already met the Emperor, a teen who is on a quest to save his people. We understand his motives pretty well, and while it is easy to see how he and Liyana could develop feelings for each other, the relationship that develops between them is so fast and so shallow, that, even expecting it (and kind of hoping for it), I had a hard time believing it when it happened.

There’s a lot of good conflict behind whether it’s right to sacrifice one person for the good of the rest, and whether the gods are righteous in taking a vessel or selfish. Liyana, who was ready to die for her clan in the beginning, fights very hard to live throughout the rest of the book. You can see that she does believe that it is right for her goddess to sacrifice her, but that it’s harder to maintain that belief once the moment she’s always prepared herself for passes by and she has to do it again. Or when there appears to be a loophole (but not a plothole, I promise) in how vessels work.

But even with a few pacing problems, I enjoyed the book overall, and think it would make a great addition to YA fantasy lovers’ bookshelves.

Recommended for fans of: traditional fantasy tropes in a unique setting, great mythology and world-building, desert settings, covers that are not whitewashed!, “villains” with understandable motives.

Rating: Four hearts

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Barbershop

So in my spare time, I sing in a barbershop choir–I mean, chorus, as they keep reminding me–as part of the international organization of Sweet Adelines.  My chorus does a concert in the winter or fall and sings for various other events, but we also compete along with other Sweet Adeline choruses and quartets.

You probably think of barbershop as men’s quartets, possibly thinking of the guys in The Music Man, singing “Lida Rose” or “Goodnight, Ladies.”  So did I.  The first time I knew that women could be in barbershop quartets was when I saw MAXX Factor on the show The Sing-Off.  And it wasn’t until I was looking for a choir to join that I found out that there were choruses.

Barbershop is a cappella music, featuring four vocal parts–in order from highest to lowest: tenor, lead, baritone, and bass.  Even with women singers, the parts retain these names.  My part is lead, which means that 90% of the time I have the melody (phew).  This is pretty different from choirs that I grew up with, where the first soprano part–the highest part, which corresponds with the tenor part in barbershop–has the melody.  The tenor sings harmony over the lead, the bass is our foundation, and the baritone completes our chords.  One thing we strive to do is ring a chord so that a fifth note appears to be included, an overtone.

The music we do spans many decades, but traditionally, barbershop sings music from the 40s.  But, for variety, we had a quartet sing us “Poker Face” (the Glee version done for four voices instead of two).  For competition, every chorus and quartet sings a ballad and an upbeat song, and the performances I saw this weekend followed that format.  It’s great because some people get bored during ballads, while others prefer the emotions in them, so you are guaranteed the variety with each chorus/quartet’s performance.

This weekend, my chorus met with others in the region.  Apparently during this convention, there are usually many vocal techniques given to us, but this year they focused on two things: choreography and attracting younger singers.  That was fine by me because I had a sore throat and I miss zumba, so spending a weekend dancing was lots more fun than straining my voice when I could be saving it for rehearsal.

While there I met a high school choir (chorus?) who came to learn along with us, even though they don’t belong to Sweet Adelines.  A group of us had them sing for us, and they were great!  And later on, there was a contest for quartets with younger women (under 25) to see who would be sent to the Rising Star contest. (BTW, here‘s the winner of the most recent competition, if you want to get an idea what that’s like.)  And as I was watching them, I was thinking of the girls’ stories and how unique each one was, and what must have attracted them to barbershop (thanks a lot to those presentations on how to get them interested), and it sparked an idea for a novel!

So I’m sure that I’ll have more on that when I get closer to writing it, but for now I need to do more research.  I’m still really new to barbershop (I’m sure my chorus friends will come on here and laugh at how basic my barbershop info is in this post), and I’d like to get more experience under my belt before I go writing anything about it.  Besides, I have a novel to rewrite and another to start querying again. 🙂

Lots of love,Sage

Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Today I will be reviewing THE LOST GIRL.  This is a book that I got in a fit of excitement on a day when like 10 other YA books I wanted to read also came out, so it got shuffled to the side.  Then I packed it for reading over Christmas vacation, and started it Christmas Eve, but only got one chapter in before Christmas came, and I got a ton of new books.  Looking at all those shiny new books, I didn’t want to read this one anymore, so I started one of the new ones.  Well, despite that, this is the one that grabbed me.

Lost girlEva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. Made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, she is expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other”, if she ever died. Eva studies what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But fifteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.

From debut novelist Sangu Mandanna comes the dazzling story of a girl who was always told what she had to be—until she found the strength to decide for herself.

Rare is a book that I read and have no complaints about. Even books I love, I tend to find fault with, but, despite the reluctant beginning, I fell hard for The Lost Girl.

The plot is fascinating. Back-ups, or echoes, of people are created to replace those who have died. These Echoes have to pretend to be the person they’ve replaced. They receive journals and sometimes letters from the person they’re replacing, and sometimes they can even see what the “others” see. There are those that control the echoes–the Weavers–and hunters who would see them destroyed.

This is the story of Amarra, who chooses to rename herself Eva to distinguish herself from her other. She wants to live her own life. In fact, she’s not much like Amarra at all, but when Amarra dies, Eva has to assume her life and pretend to be her.

The book deals with deep subjects, how far people will go to bring back those they loved and have lost, and how far they should respect the deceased’s wishes if it hurts another. While Amarra is called the “other,” it is Eva who is treated as “other” by some who find out she’s not Amarra. Others treat her as just another person. And still others are torn between seeing her as an abomination or as a person. Eva is torn between wanting her own life and fulfilling the one she was created for. At first she does so only because she could be killed if people don’t believe the soul in her body is Amarra’s, but she’s also hope to Amarra’s mom and friends, so proving that she’s not Amarra would mean killing that hope.

The writing is of great quality, and the characters are well-drawn. Even when people were making bad choices, I didn’t question their logic or motives–rare for me. I never got bored with the pacing, and was pleasantly surprised by several routes the plot took.

Occasionally the book dipped close to a love triangle, and, don’t get me wrong, I love well-done love triangles, but this book didn’t need one, so I was happy to see that most of the time there was no question about who Eva loved, only the occasional question about who she was supposed to love.

Most amazingly in this world of YA fantasy, the book had a clear ending. There are strings left loose for a sequel if there is one, and the romance isn’t definitively tied up, but I like that openness, actually.

Overall, I was highly impressed with this book. One of the most satisfying YA reads I’ve had lately.

Recommended for fans of: well-written YA contemp fantasy, stories of loss and hope, stories about identity, India, England, standalones, strong characters, strong world-building.

Rated: 5 blue hearts

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Lots of love,
Sage