Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: Vessel

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.

Durst has, by in large, always pleased me with her writing.  I refer mainly to Ice (which I adore) and Enchanted Ivy (which I was mostly pleased by).  During her talk at the signing I attended, she mentioned that Tamora Pierce was a large inspiration for her.  That reading the Alanna books and seeing how a girl fought to become a knight inspired her to write.  I can see that most clearly in this book (which was blurbed by Pierce!) and influence the character of Alanna must have had on Durst's creative process.

The world that Durst built for the Desert Clans is one riddled with superstition, tradition and blind faith in their religion.  For many of the clans, and vessels, everything begins and ends with the God/Goddess of their people.  Moreso then what it means as a way to carve out a life in the harsh, unforgiving, barely habitable desert, the summoning is almost a validation that the sacrifices they continually make are important.  Like the deities the varied clans each have a separate way of living, but they are united in they can't survive without their respective god or goddess. 

And as at least three characters point out, this is highly problematic when things go wrong.

Liyana is an easy character to feel emotion for.  She's young, she's deeply devoted to saving her people despite the hostility she encounters when her summoning fails.  She confused by the changes in her life, in how she views the Gods she's been told to revere all her life, in the abrupt turn things take when her carefully laid out path is pulled away.  Despite the fantasy trappings these are all things that could easily happen to anyone in the real world.  Loss of identity, rebuilding something from the ashes of old, even a crisis of faith--who hasn't gone through this?

Interestingly consequences in the book weren't often delivered upon the one who perpetrated the problem.  For instance when Korbyn and Liyana arrive at the Horse Clan (worshippers of Sendak, a kind of frenemy to Korbryn), Korbyn's levity causes Liyana harm.  Similarly later when Liyana overrules Fennick, he pays the price.

Parts of Vessel definitely needed more fleshing out.  Durst intersperses the Liyana and the others travels to save their way of life with chapters from following the young Emperor of the Crescent Lands struggle to find the answer to his people's problems.  I would have liked to see the Crescent Lands, or at least learned a bit more about how they lived.  How they founded their way of life and how their stories--the only form of history anyone in the novel has--diverted so fundamentally from the Desert Clans.  The mythology nut in me wondered if any of their tales overlapped--what gods the Crescent Land once had and if the Desert Clans gods knew them. 

I have my reservations in regards to the ending, while I understood where Durst was going and even agreed with the overall results, it was too much crammed into too little page space.  One character in particular, and their actions which could have devastating to the world at large and not just to either the desert clans or the Crescent Lands, are not given the justification I think they deserved.  Spoiler (highlight to see): The Emperor freely admits to ordering his Magician to imprison the Desert Clan Gods in their diamond prisons.  Other then some disgust and 'I understand you did it from a good place' sort of comment, it just...vanishes and we are given to assume Liyana married him.

Regardless this book held me enthralled and I can't recommend it enough.