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Staff Picks: “Vessel” by Sarah Beth Durst

From the very beginning I was swept up in the desert sandstorm that is Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst. I anticipated enjoying this book, but I fell in LOVE. The unique setting, the fantastic characters, the overarching themes of faith and perseverance…it hit all of my sweet spots as a reader.

People in YA lit talk a lot about strong heroines…there’s Katniss and Katsa, of course, but I loved Liyana, and think more people should be talking about her!

Liyana has long ago accepted her fate, and dutifully trained for the ceremony in which the goddess of her tribe will take over her body and guide her people. Then, though she is pure of heart and dances perfectly, her god does not come. The elders decide that the goddess must have decided she was unworthy, and they abandon her in the desert.

But Liyana perseveres, surviving two days in the desert, alone, before a young man appears, bearing the same tattoos that mark her as a vessel. It’s Korbyn, the trickster god, who made it to his vessel even though the gods of several other tribes, including Liyana’s, have been kidnapped. Korbyn and Liyana set out on a quest to find the other empty vessels before their clans do worse than simply abandon them so together they can save their gods, who are crucial to their survival in their harsh environment.

Liyana and Korbyn journey across the desert together, gathering other vessels, defeating horrendous beasts, swapping stories and fables, and teaching each other magic and dance.

They might even be falling in love, which does not bode well, as Liyana is the vessel for Korbyn’s beloved, the goddess Bayla of the Goat Clan.

The struggles of this band of vessels as they travelled through the dessert were riveting. Fennick of the Horse Clan, Pia of the Silk Clan, and Raan of the Scorpion Clan were all compelling characters. The mystery of who had captured the missing gods was intriguing and the magic and mythology of the Turtle People was unique. I love the characterization of the gods as fallible and susceptible to human emotions. They aren’t all powerful or all knowing, and they can make mistakes.

The world-building felt effortless, as if these were the kind of stories I had grown up with all my life, although I couldn’t trace the influences. It’s rare when the antagonist can be so sympathetic. I love it when an author respects readers enough to invite them to see that even those who seem evil often believe they have noble intentions.

This is a novel about challenging what one has always been told and making room for a new paradigm or world view. It’s about the nature of sacrifice and standing up for what one believes in. It’s about tradition and faith as much as about adaptation and instinct. I loved it because it explored a love that is beyond romantic and made room for many different kinds of love.

This is a perfect fit for fans of YA fantasy like Graceling orFinnikin of the Rock, especially those interested in a desert setting.

– Molly, YA 

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