In a desert world of sandstorms and sand-wolves, a teen girl must defy the gods to save her tribe in this mystical, atmospheric tale from the author of Drink, Slay, Love.Liyana has trained her entire life to be the vessel of a goddess. The goddess will inhabit Liyana’s body and use magic to bring rain to the desert. But Liyana’s goddess never comes. Abandoned by her angry 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. For 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.
I was surprised that this novel wasn’t more aggressively marketed because it has all the elements necessary for a blockbuster in the book world. I have been waiting for this novel for ages and it did not disappoint. Liyana is an extremely likable protagonist and following her journey is exhilarating and thrilling at times. The mythical world created by Durst is also fascinating with its different ecosystems, tribes, arts and religion. The desert is almost a character in its own right and I believe Durst is able to accurately portray the harsh conditions in which people survive in the desert.
The supporting characters are also well hewed with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. All the vessels are unique but perhaps I most felt for the vessel-whose-name-I-can’t-remember and her struggle to live even when her soul is in danger of being consumed by the “God” living in her. The mythology is also very well constructed with things being logical and fantastical (see, it’s possible!). What I found really fascinating was the concept of ritual soul death that led to the emptying of the body (thus vessel) into which the God will pour themselves. Korbyn, the trickster God, is the only one of the Gods who manages to correctly fill his vessel but I don’t think the reader is able to forget at any time that the soul and body are different. Korbyn is intriguing – as Gods are wont to be – and though he is much easier to understand than N. K. Jemisin’s Gods, he is still fey and fickle.
His fascination with Liyana and her reciprocating his feelings has the air of a forbidden romance especially when you consider that Liyana is the vessel for Korbyn’s true love. Then you throw in a young Emperor trying to do his best in the circumstances for the people he rules, a nefarious wizard, magic and burgeoning feelings where there should be none. Yes, it is a rollercoaster journey. I loved the ending. I thought it was sufficiently postmodern and tuned in to contemporary expectations instead of traditional. The only thing that detracted from the novel for me was that a very important character, the prince, could have been developed much more than he was. His interactions with several key characters needed more building up and depth. That is just a personal though and other readers may be quite satisfied by the way that relationship is built. All in all, I heartily recommend this fantasy. It’s very entertaining and in all the good ways.