There are few standalone young adult fantasy novels nowadays. Sarah Beth Durst’s “Vessel” is a standalone fantasy novel that actually manages to thrive on its own.
In the book, Liyana has been raised to be the vessel for the goddess of her desert tribe. Her soul will leave so the goddess’ can enter. Liyana’s tattooed her skin with the necessary welcoming marks, she’s kept her body pure and trained as she ‘ought. But when her goddess doesn’t come and her tribe abandons her to the wilds of the desert, she’s determined to live the life she didn’t know she’d have.
Enter Korbyn, the Mischief God. He may have made it into his vessel’s body, but the other tribes of the desert have had their gods stolen before they could enter their hosts. He may be able to rescue them with Liyana’s help, if Liyana can learn to trust him.
Cue an adventure across the desert. The other tribes may be willing to hand over their vessels (if they haven’t already killed them). They may be able to rescue the gods (if they don’t die in the process). Liyana may survive (if her goddess doesn’t remove her soul).
Durst’s writing is the trifecta of fantasy novels: world, character and writing. To perfect one, you need all three. Durst’s writing is absolutely stunning. It flows as smoothly as the sand dunes she writes about, managing to capture and turn a phrase better than a lot of the young adult fantasy writers out there today.
Her characters — Liyana, Korbyn, Pia, all of them — stun with their distinctive personalities, each fleshed out and interesting. Even when they are not, all come across with multifaceted human personalities. The brilliant lack of love plots — they’re not necessary to the story, so they weren’t forced in — doesn’t matter because of the friendships that develop and the character arcs that are seen.
The world is beautiful and dangerous, filled with shining sand and sparkling magic. It’s the sort of place you could get lost in upon the first reading and every re-read after that: a world that you’ll never forget because of how vividly it’s described.
And trust me, you will want to re-read.
If you’ve ever been interested in fantasy, young adult or otherwise, Sarah Beth Durst’s “Vessel” is the way to go.