Monday, 22 October 2012

review: Vessel

by Sarah Beth Durst
Margaret K. McElderry, September 11 2012
young adult fantasy

Ever since her dreamwalk, Liyana's been marked as the vessel: she'll give up her body to her clan's deity, who will bless the desert and help the clan survive. But her goddess never comes. Her furious tribe abandons her, and Liyana doesn't expect to survive in the desert alone. Then comes Korbyn, a trickster god inside his vessel, who tells her five other deities are missing and that their vessels must band together to locate them. They set out through the desert for the other clans, but their search will take them to the desert's border -- and beyond, where the Emperor reigns over the Crescent Empire...
The cover:

If I was a swearing type of person, I'd be swearing right now. How fracking beautiful is that cover? The gorgeous red-ombre-dust colour scheme, the transparent type treatment, the droid-serif-esque title and author name font contrasted by that sweeping cursive V. And the girl! A person-of-colour in a dress looking as ceremonially representative of the character as can be. Excuse me while I go weep in joy. And demand S&S to turn this cover into a poster.

The book:

This novel was everything wonderful about fantasy in one go. Let's start with the worldbuilding, because holy wow is it stellar. The desert and its clans clearly have history. The myths the people have for their beginnings read like a genuine creation story, while the novel's actual premise and the magic involved are worked intricately into the lifestyle of the people. So the vessel concept is unique, yes, but it isn't just a hook; it has substance. It has meaning. And oh, there is a delicious twist concerning the vessels' lives, the deities who overtake them, and magic.

Liyana, we're told, is practical, and she is -- wonderfully so. Her pragmatism gives her an innate strength that makes her courageous and savvy, an excellent combination for the political dealings that pick up during the story. As a foil, Korbyn excels; he's good-natured on the surface, almost light-hearted, but with a level head and a rough yet protective side. With them together, there are moments of head-spinning emotion and instances of excellent humour.

The other characters, from the assorted vessels and clan members to the Crescent Empire personages, all fulfill their role with well-fleshed personalities; the growing relationship between Liyana and the Emperor stand out in particular. And the dynamics between the vessels are at their best in this quote:
As she got closer, Raan shouted a string of obscenities at them. Pia gasped with each one. Fennick looked disgusted.
"Impressive vocabulary," Korbyn said. "I feel as though I should take notes."
"I think she's making them up," Liyanna siad. "Half of them are not anatomically possible."
"And the rest is... ill-advised," Pia said.
(p. 189)
The deities themselves are, surprisingly, also developed, and the relationship involving Liyana, Bayla (Liyana's clan's god) and Korbyn shift constantly, believably, as does the relationship between the Crescent Empire and the desert clans. The villain is sufficiently evil with his dramatic ambition, but it's crux of these two key relationships that makes the ending so heartbreaking. Such an epic journey across the desert, with such a finale... I'm not going to lie. When I finished Vessel, I wanted to cry.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5