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Literature / Vessel

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The cover of Vessel.
A young adult fantasy novel by Sarah Beth Durst, published by Simon and Schuster.

Blurb from Durst's official website:

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.


A critically acclaimed work, 2013 winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, 2012 finalist of the Andre Norton Award, one of Kirkus Best Teen Books 2012, and 2012 finalist of Cybils F/SF YA Award.


  • Action Girl: Liyana, from being able to defend herself from sand wolves, to walking into the enemy camp alone, to fighting the glass serpents (which are extremely deadly).
  • The Alcoholic: Raan.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Considering that both Liyana and Bayla love Korbyn the trickster God, it does seem so.
    • Averted in the case of Pia and Raan.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The dagger, made of a sky serpent scale, that Jidali gives to Liyana. There's even a backstory in the novel itself.
  • Anchored Ship: Liyana and Korbyn both love each other... But Korbyn is also in love with Bayla at the same time. And Liyana doesn't want to betray her goddess. Cue angst (mostly from Liyana's side).
  • Animal Motifs: Oh, so much. Each clan is represented by an animal, and the characteristics of the animal affect the clan (and god) as well. Case in point: Korbyn being a trickster, and he's the god of the Raven Clan...
  • Big Damn Heroes: Korbyn is this when he transfers his soul into Jarlath's body to keep his alive until his soul returns from the Dreaming, knowing that a body will expire without a soul and still willing to give up his up for Liyana's happiness.
    • All the Vessels can be said to be this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The battle was won by The Good Guys, the Magician was killed... But at the expense of draining the lake, so the Gods are forced to return to The Dreaming. Which means the Liyana/Korbyn ship is sunk. Liyana goes on to marry Jarlath, so her people now are officially part of the Crescent Empire and no longer have to lead a poor life. So, it appears to be a happy ending, right? But if Liyana still loves Korbyn, then probably not. The question is, does she? The ambiguous ending of her returning to Korbyn's grave doesn't help matters.
  • Blessed with Suck: The Vessels. Being chosen to be a Vessel appears to be a great honor, especially when you get to be well-fed and all - but the price of that is to die young, regardless if you're willing or not.
  • Break the Cutie: Raan when she is forced to be another clan's Vessel. DAMN.
    • Also, later, when Maara enters Raan's body, and the former's cruelty to the latter. Poor thing, as if she hasn't suffered enough.
  • Broken Bird: Raan is this to some extent, when the other characters (and the reader) find out the reason for her alcoholism and cynical views. Turns out her sisters had died soon after being born because her clan was too impoverished. To make matters worse, it was apparently due to some of the other clan members' alcoholism, which in turn caused Raan to become bitter and cynical and ironically, an alcoholic herself.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Liyana when it comes to her feelings for Korbyn. Justified in that she's not supposed to even love him in the first place.
  • The Charmer: Korbyn was this before he got together with Bayla. And even so, he still comes off as charming towards Liyana.
  • Chastity Couple: The most that any couple do in this book is kiss.
    • At first it seems that Liyana and Korbyn are headed for No Hugging, No Kissing, what with their star-crossed love... Until Korbyn kisses her. And she kisses him back. And even then, that's all they do.
    • Liyana and Jarlath, who kissed but that's about it.
    • Fennik and Pia are really the epitome of this, doing absolutely nothing with each other until they die. Likely because they know they will have no future together.
  • The Chosen One: All the Vessels are this.
    • Liyana is doubted at the beginning of the novel, though.
  • Cool Big Sis: Liyana appears to be this towards Jidali.
  • Crying Wolf: Korbyn is this. Because he tricked the other gods so often, when he goes to the clans telling them their gods are kidnapped, it's no surprise nobody believes him. He even lampshades it himself.
    "I wish this were a trick," Korbyn said, "but for once, I am telling the truth. I can see how you would be confused. This honesty and nobility is new to me as well-"
  • Deity of Human Origin: All the gods are this.
  • Determinator: Liyana. Especially at the end where she is convinced she will be able to return to her own body. Well, she's right.
  • Deuteragonist: Korbyn.
  • Divine Date: Liyana and Korbyn.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Liyana and the other Gods, especially when Korbyn allows her to command them.
    • The Emperor and some of his subordinates, because of his age and inexperience.
  • Everyone Can See It: What Pia and Raan basically tell Liyana when she tries to deny her feelings for Korbyn.
  • The Extremist Was Right: At the end of the novel, the desert people became part of the Crescent Empire and Vessels were no longer necessary (granted, they couldn't do it anyway since the lake was now dry), so what the Magician had intended for things to happen did happen - except he died for it.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: Every clan in this novel has a god of their own. Except for Korbyn the trickster god, the other gods don't appear to have specific powers/titles of their own, a la polytheism like, say, Ancient Egyptian mythology.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Liyana and Raan.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Initially, all of the Vessels and Korbyn are strangers and get off the wrong foot (to put it mildly), but by the end they do care for each other, with some more than others...
  • First Love: Korbyn is this to Liyana.
    • Sendar and Bayla are implied to have been each other's first loves.
    • Also Fennik and Pia, when they were dead and in the Dreaming.
  • Five-Man Band:
    • The Heroine: Liyana. She's our protagonist!
    • The Lancer: Raan. She's snarky and is the only one who doesn't want to let a goddess inhabit her body, because she doesn't want to die.
    • The Smart Guy: Pia. She's smart, perceptive and physically weak.
    • The Big Guy: Fennik, for his brute strength.
    • The Chick: Korbyn. Gender-inverted; he does try his best to make everyone get along.
  • God Couple: Korbyn and Bayla.
    • Not to mention Bayla and Sendar.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Is the sacrifice of young teenagers just so for the Gods to inhabit their bodies justified? On one hand, it's for the greater good. On the other hand, it wasn't necessary for the Vessels to die, not that anyone knew at first. And then when you take into account how some gods just want a chance to live on Earth and could care less about humans...
  • Handicapped Badass: Pia. Don't let the fact that she is blind fool you, she can do things that other people can. With help from others, but still.
  • Heaven Seeker: The truly willing Vessels, like Pia, are this.
  • Heroic BSoD: Raan undergoes this when she was taken by the Falcon Clan and forced to become their Vessel.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: See Big Damn Heroes.
    • The Vessels can be argued to be this.
  • Human Sacrifice: The theme of this book, and what the Vessels essentially are.
    • Hesitant Sacrifice: The not-so-willing Vessels, like Raan, are this. Liyana also shows shades of this the more time she spends with Korbyn.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Liyana gives Raan this speech whenever Raan manages to take over her body after Maara is freed and enters Raan's body.
  • Informed Attribute: We're told that Korbyn is a trickster god, but he never really showed any particular tricks throughout the novel. Possibly justified considering the gravity of the mission at hand.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: What Korbyn did for Liyana at the end of the novel.
    • Even after falling in love with Korbyn, Liyana's still willing to give up her life for Bayla.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Liyana, who can appear aloof/cold due to her practical streak, is revealed to be a good person whose loyalties to her friends make her walk into an enemy camp.
    • Fennik can be said to be this, after he goes off with Liyana and Korbyn.
    • Korbyn can be argued to be this, since he was previously mischievous and quite the trouble maker but willing to rescue the other gods when they are in trouble.
  • Knight Templar: The Magician. When you think about it, he's not exactly wrong, if a little extreme... But the same can't be said for his methods.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Liyana.
    • Both Pia and Raan are this at times.
  • Love at First Sight: Fennik has this when he sees Pia.
  • Love Dodecahedron: With Sendar, Bayla, Korbyn, Liyana and Jarlath.
  • Love Makes You Evil: This is what drove The Magician to do what he did.
  • Love Triangle: See Triang Relations below.
  • May–December Romance: The old lady from Raan's clan and Korbyn; has a Squick moment when you consider her age. Granted, Korbyn is immortal and is merely borrowing a young body right now, and that it happened in the past, but still, the mental images... Also applicable in the past, when Korbyn meets the young Runa, with the roles reversed. Liyana even lampshades it.
    • Technically speaking, Korbyn and Liyana can be this. But if you consider the fact that Liyana is a reincarnated soul, well then, things get complicated...
  • Mentor Ship: Korbyn to Liyana.
    • Inverted when Liyana teaches Korbyn how to dance.
  • Mythopoeia: This entire novel takes place in a fantasy world that also sounds like it could have happened in the past (say, 15th century and before). However, this world differs from our own, in that they have their own gods, which are proven to actually exist since they do come down to the human realm once in a while. There are also plenty of stories passed down from generation to generation as a result of Oral Tradition, and some of these stories appear in the novel when the characters converse, which serve to enrich and aid in world-building.
  • The Needs of the Many: Played straight with the Vessels. See Human Sacrifice.
  • No Name Given: We never did find out the name of Korbyn's Vessel.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Most of the Vessels.
  • One True Love: Played with in the case of Korbyn. Who does he truly love, Liyana or Bayla?
    • The same question can be asked of Liyana.
    • Played straight with The Magician and his love.
  • Only One Name: Everyone in this novel.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Zig-zagged. On one hand, you have perfectly normal creatures like ravens and horses. On the other hand, you have sand wolves and glass serpents.
  • Perpetual Poverty: All the Clans in the novel until the end. Compared to the Crescent Empire, anyway.
  • Power Tattoo: All the Vessels have this, as a way of distinguishing them from everybody else. It's supposed to be a symbol that their bodies are capable of working magic, and this is important because the gods that occupy their bodies have to be able to do so for the sake of the clans.
  • Reincarnation: Happens to some people.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: Liyana does this for Jarlath.
  • Second Love: Jarlath is this for Liyana.
    • It's not mentioned in the novel if Bayla had other lovers before Sendar, but it's implied that Korbyn is this to Bayla.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: On one hand you have the 'evil' magician, who believes by wiping out all the Gods, the desert people would be forced to relocate to the Crescent Empire and thus stop sacrificing Vessels, saving the Vessels' lives while allowing the clan people to live better lives. On the other hand, you have the desert people who believe that a little sacrifice is needed for the greater good, and who cling on to their traditions despite having to kill off their Vessels.
    • Liyana, Korbyn, Pia and Fennik are more towards the desert people's side, while Raan and Jarlath are more towards the Magician's side.
  • Soul Jar: Liyana becomes this when she summons the other Gods', and Jarlath's, souls into her body.
  • Spirit World: The Dreaming is essentially this.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Liyana and Korbyn. [[Spoiler:To make things even worse, Korbyn would be reunited with Bayla in the Dreaming, and Liyana married Jarlath. So, they can't be Together in Death either.]]
  • Taking You with Me: The Magician doesn't mind this if his plan succeeds.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Raan's Tomboy to Pia's Girly Girl.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Liyana when she is finally able to summon magic.
    • Taken Up to Eleven When Liyana has the souls of many Gods in her body. Damn.
  • Triang Relations: Damn. The Liyana/Korbyn/Bayla and the Korbyn/Liyana/Jarlath fit so many types that it depends on when you are looking at them.
    • Ultimately, the Liyana/Korbyn/Bayla triangle fits Type 12 the best. Korbyn and Bayla are already in a relationship, but Korbyn falls for Liyana, who in turn loves him back, but Liyana is at the same time devoted to Bayla.
      • It gets even more complicated when Sendar practically died as a result of The Magician, and Bayla's outburst that she's aware of Sendar's affections, and her passionate begging for him to be alive...
    • The Korbyn/Liyana/Jarlath triangle hovers between Type 1, Type 4 and Type 7. Liyana loves both Korbyn and Jarlath, and both reciprocate. However, she knows she cannot be with Korbyn mainly because of Bayla. In the end she didn't so much as to let Korbyn go willingly as it's actually more of circumstances, and chooses Jarlath.
  • The Trickster: Korbyn is supposed to be the epitome of this.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Korbyn.
    • Jarlath can be argued to be this.
  • True Companions: Liyana, Korbyn, Fennik, Pia and Raan can be said to be this at the end.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Liyana, Korbyn and Jarlath.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: At first Liyana denies her feelings towards Korbyn, which she then find is reciprocated when Korbyn kisses her. Then she denies her feelings to the other Vessels even though Everyone Can See It, while struggling with her feelings because he's already taken. Things get worse when Bayla makes her entrance, and at the end of the novel this is never fully resolved, ending with Liyana having a Bittersweet Ending, losing Korbyn because his body died while his soul kept Jarlath's body alive.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Jidali, who proved to be a fan-favorite, at the end?
  • Would Hit a Girl: Averted, mostly. The guys in the novel tend to avoid this. That being said, Fennik did mention that he would slice Liyana if he had been in his father's position, and would still do it if there was a need to.
  • You Are Not Alone: Liyana says this to Korbyn.
    Liyana: "Korbyn, you think you need to save the entire desert by yourself. You keep forgetting you're not alone."


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