Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst – Review

Book Jacket:

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


This book is sheer fantasy fun, in a very Tamora Pierce/Kristin Cashore kind of way – though to be honest, I didn’t quite love Vessel as wholeheartedly as I love the books of those two authors, but still, this is a highly enjoyable, highly entertaining read.

First off, the world building of this book is downright brilliant. I loved everything about it, from the desert tribal setting and the temperamental gods and goddesses to the sacrifices they demanded of their respective tribes and the particular brand of magic that wove it all together, not to mention the encroaching empire, the sand wolves, the glass dragons… I mean, wow. I’m a huge fantasy buff and yet Durst created a world I most definitely had never seen before – which made it a heck of a lot of fun to explore.

As for the central dilemma of this novel – the sacrifice demanded of Liyana – oh, it was BRILLIANT. Liyana is thrown out of her tribe when for some reason she isn’t taken over by her goddess (which would have meant, essentially, her death), yet even as Liyana struggles to save her family and tribe (by finding her goddess and finally becoming the vessel she was destined to be)  – and she never wavers in her determination to see it through – every step she takes brings her closer and closer to her own death, even as all the while she finds more and more reasons to live. Seriously, I LOVED it – as a hook and as a core, it was wonderful, and as a result this book had me tightly ensnared from the start. I simply had to know how it ended.

And of course Liyana herself is a wonderful protagonist – I loved her pragmatism, her loyalty, and how she never backed down – and her traveling companions were all equally interesting and well-drawn, even the godly ones, so I have no complaints at all on that score, but the one thing about this story that did rub me a bit was the romance. I just found it to be…a little annoying, actually. There was altogether too much, well, looonnnging – the sighing, the aching to touch, the flirty glances, the gazing into each other’s eyes – and I just found myself fidgeting my way through it all, because it really didn’t do anything for me. Now don’t get me wrong, I do love Liyana – and I absolutely respected her choices and self respect – but I just couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for either the love interest or the inevitable love triangle. And though it turned out I did very much like how it ended, all in all it was far and away my least favorite part of this book – luckily, however, every other relationship in this book was downright wonderful, and altogether I did very much enjoy enjoying watching them all play out.

As for the plot, while I enjoyed it – from how Durst kept things moving briskly along to the sheer originality of the proceedings – there was also just something a little…well, scattered about it all. Things just kept coming out of left field, or dropping into Liyana’s lap, with far too much regularity – the Emperor’s story in particular felt a bit random – and as a result overall this story just felt a little vague. So while I downright adored Liyana’s personal arc, and was fully vested in the proceedings for her sake, the larger scope of this story left me a tad unfulfilled, as things fell out of the sky just a hair too much. But still, Durst definitely brings heaps of originality to the proceedings, and I did still very much enjoy this fantasy adventure ride.

So in the end, I really did have a blast reading this book – and I will definitely be checking out Sarah Beth Durst’s backlist in the very near future, because as far as YA fantasy goes, this was one of the best books I’ve read all year.

Byrt Grade: A

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) says:

Durst offers a meditation on leadership and power and a vivid story set outside the typical Western European fantasy milieu.

The Book Smugglers say:

Vessel is an absolutely brilliant book…It reads a lot like an old-fashioned adventure Fantasy and it features a very thought-provoking premise.

YA Book Queen says:

Easily one of the best stories I’ve read all year, Vessel is a highly creative, richly cultured, and wonderfully executed fantasy novel