McElderry Books, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4424-2377-0
Fantasy, 2013 (Reissue)
I’m going to say this right away: this review contains references to the ending. There will be major spoilers, so avert your eyes if you haven’t read this book but wish to do so in the future. I hate to do this, but the bulk of my issue with this book is with regards to the way the author wraps things up for her main characters. So, once again, there are spoilers in this review. You have been warned.
Liyana is a young lady, a member of one of the tribes living in the desert of this fantasy world. Each tribe has a patron god, and Liyana’s tribe, the Goat Clan, worships Bayla, the goddess of foot stomping and childish demands. And, each century, a human vessel is chosen for the god to inhabit and do magic stuff that will keep the tribe happy. Liyana is chosen by her people to be Bayla’s host, and she’s been raised all her life for the grand moment when Bayla takes over and she basically dies as her entire consciousness would be subsumed by the goddess.
When the story opens, Bayla doesn’t come, so her people abandon Liyana in the desert, confident that she is somehow unworthy. Liyana is a feisty heroine who won’t lie down and die just because of such inconvenience, but she’s still out of her depths and may very well perish were not for Korbyn. Korbyn is the trickster god who manages to take over a human vessel, but the other five gods are now MIA. Korbyn and Liyana decide to round up the other human vessels to discover what happened to their gods.
Let’s start with the good things first. Liyana is a solid heroine – unlike other young adult novel heroines, she is far from being self-absorbed and bratty. She wants to get things done, and she doesn’t hesitate to get things moving if she has to. The author does a great job in allowing Liyana to be relatable to the contemporary young adult novel reader while letting Liyana remain in character as some young lady in a vaguely Middle-eastern desert setting. The prose is lovely to read, as the author has an elegant way with words without becoming unnecessarily wordy or flowery. The author evokes some hard questions about loyalty, tradition, choices…
…. Only to then sweep away all difficult issues by giving her characters a ridiculously positive happy ending, a far cry from the comparatively darker tones of the story in the first two-thirds. The story goes off the tracks the moment Liyana meets with the Emperor of the more urban areas of the place, because Liyana then mutates spectacularly into the Mary Sue of the Desert and the story bends itself backward to ensure that she doesn’t have to be held even a little accountable for her actions.
I mean, Liyana decides to release the gods, even if it means the snuffing out of the personalities of her companions that she has come to become fond of. She has to! She has to save her people, after all! Surprise, the gods turn out to be complete brats – as deities that always get their way tend to be – and she’s like, oh crap. Of course, Liyana gets to keep her personality intact because she’s special, don’t you know. And it’s okay, her friends aren’t mad that she basically killed them without thinking too much over her decision, because they are so happy in heaven and two of them even get to be, like, boyfriend and girlfriend in Dead People Land, thank you Liyana! Isn’t she awesome?
And, after all that talk about magic being necessary to keep the people alive, Liyana and her boyfriend help to get rid of the magic anyway, and somehow the world is better as a result. Liyana likes Korbyn, but it’s so obvious that won’t work out, so Liyana loves the Emperor next. The Emperor, of course, loves Liyana at first sight because she’s so special, and he tolerates her and even admires her after she’s undone all his plans to save his own people. After all, how can any guy resist the very special Liyana? Everyone sacrifices to make Liyana happy, and they end up being happy to as a result. Liyana is so wonderful! Look at her glow!
Basically, the story ends up with everyone paired off to shag like rabbits – except for the rebellious girl, who ends up just being happy solo in Dead People Land because naughty girls don’t get rewarded with boyfriends – and nobody has to suffer anymore as the land is now one of unicorns and rainbows. Nobody is even a little angry about anything, not even the dead people who became dead for no reason in the end, because Liyana is special. Greatness just shoots out from her rear end to cover the world with PURE AWESOME!!!!!!!!! and everyone has somebody to love, and isn’t that lovely?
Vessel would have been a great read if someone hadn’t replaced the last third of the book with a rejected My Little Pony script.