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.
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