The Limits of Gods: Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durstvessel

Published: September 11th 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster

Source: local library

Synopsis: 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.

My thoughts: I’m sure that it was Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks that put this book on my radar. Then, when it appeared on the post at YALSA’s The Hub that highlighted great book covers with POC characters on them,  I knew I wanted to read it.

I’m so glad I did. From the very beginning I was swept up in the desert sandstorm that is this book. 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 kick ass heroines…there’s Katniss and Katsa, of course, and any novel that features a strong female lead is going to catch my attention, 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 (mind you, she’s already survived a cobra and sand wolves at this point—she’s kick ass, like I said). 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 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 which I reviewed here or Finnikin of the Rock, which I also loved—especially those interested in a desert setting.

Second Opinions:

The Book Smugglers: “Vessel is an adventure novel, spanning the desert and another empire, even to a forbidden lake of magic and the creatures that guard it. The plotting and worldbuilding in this book are truly masterful, unique and utterly memorable.”

Ms. Martin’s Reviews: “What an exciting adventure! I couldn’t put it down. This high fantasy story has a sort of ordinary girl who has to save her world.”

12 thoughts on “The Limits of Gods: Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst

  1. I have this currently checked out from the library and I’m super excited to read it! It sounds like such a unique story. Liyana sounds like an amazing heroine and her journey sounds epic, to say the least.

  2. I think I discovered this book through Cynsations? But I agree – great heroine and interesting premise. Fab YA raed!

    1. Oh I’ve heard so many great things about Tamora Pierce! I haven’t read her yet, but my teen book club at the library is reading the first in one series…I’m sure I’ll breeze through them after that. Looking forward to it!

  3. What a brilliant review! I’m glad you mentioned Finnikin and Graceling, as those are two of my favourite fantasy novels. This sounds really good, especially with the flawless world-building and strong main character. I will have to see if I can get hold of a copy soon. :)

    Glad you enjoyed it, Molly!

  4. Yes, yes yes! I’m SO happy to have put this one on your radar, Molly, because I absolutely adored it. I STILL need to write my review…it’s one of those that I haven’t sat down to formulate just how many ways I found it wonderful yet. I loved the effortless world building, and especially the different look on love and the possibilities of relationships. So unique and fantastic.

  5. Liyana does sound like a remarkable protagonist. Remember when Charlotte Doyle hit the stacks & we were all so happy to have a strong heroine? How cool that kids now can find many. And thanks for the thorough review.

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