Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
When Liyana took her dreamwalk, she found out that she would be a vessel for her goddess to return to the world. This meant that the Great Drought would end as the goddess Bayla would bring water to their dry wells in the desert. Liyana worked to make sure that her body was worthy of the goddess, but when she danced the sacred dance, Bayla did not appear. Left behind by her tribe to die in the desert alone, Liyana met Korbyn, a god inside his vessel. He explained that five gods were missing, kidnapped by someone. So Liyana joined Korbyn in traveling to the other nomadic tribes to tell them of their lost gods and save their vessels. But the journey is dangerous, the tribes unwelcoming, the real enemy unknown, and as they journey, Liyana finds more and more reasons to not want to disappear when her goddess returns.
Durst has a great storytelling skill which is evident in this book. The storyline is complex with many characters, mortals and gods alike. Durst keeps the story moving forward at a brisk pace, populating her world with many unique characters. Even the desert itself is wondrous with its sand wolves, giant worms, and glass sky serpents. The ecological disaster of a world-wide drought drives the story, creating its own tension and time limits.
But what Durst does best here is create an amazing heroine. Liyana is not only worthy to be the vessel for the goddess, but worthy of awe herself. She is not only strong but very vulnerable. She is so strong but also rocked by the new emotions of love and lust that she finds awakening. She is devoted to her goddess but also questions her own role in bringing the goddess to life. Complex and completely human, Liyana is simply remarkable.
I must highlight here that Liyana is clearly a non-white heroine in the story and happily, the cover reflects that as well. This is an amazing girl of the desert with skin that is described as burnt cinnamon.
Get this one into the hands of teens who enjoy the strong heroines of writers like Tamora Pierce. They will love the world building, unique setting, and Liyana herself. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.