by Sarah Beth Durst
First sentence: “On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family’s tent to see the dawn.”
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Liyana is one of the Turtle People, the people of the desert. Every hundred years, the gods and goddesses they worship come back from the Dreaming, entering a Vessel that has been prepared in order to walk among their people, helping them with magic live for another hundred years in the desert.
Liyana is the vessel for the goddess Bayla, and even though she doesn’t want to die, she does want to do her duty. But then, something goes wrong: Bayla doesn’t come. Liyana’s clan leaves her to die, but shortly there after the trickster go Korbyn shows up with some bad news: someone has trapped the gods and goddesses and if they don’t save them, then the entire Turtle People will die. (The stakes are even higher than Korbyn realizes: the emperor of the Crescent Empire is planning to invade in search of a lake, in order to ease the Great Drought that has affected his people.) His plan: find the vessels for the rest of the gods/goddesses captured and then find the gods/goddesses and rescue them.
So far, so good: Durst makes interesting use of the idea of freedom, worship and sacrifice for the greater good. Liyana is a strong, likeable girl, someone who was willing to make the sacrifice of her life to help her clan, but in the face of another decision and path, would willingly look at the other options. (There was another vessel who wasn’t as open to other ideas, and she irritated me to no end.) And an extra bonus to her for writing a great fantasy character of color.
The place where it broke down for me — though not enough to give up on the book — was when the group finally confronted the emperor and found the gods. I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief: for even though Liyana was capable and strong, I’m not sure she’d have made such a connection with an emperor (yes, he was young and handsome), so quickly. Her relationship with Korbyn, forbidden though it was, was a whole lot more believable. Maybe it’s just because I’m down on instalove.
But, the end? That I believed and enjoyed. And I love that Durst can write a compelling fantasy story in. one. book. and doesn’t need a whole trilogy to work out her storyline. For that alone (though the story really is compelling and intriguing, even if it is a bit slow in parts), this one is worth reading.