Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Titan’s Forest
Publisher: Tor (January 31, 2017)
Length: 336 pages
Crossroads of Canopy could have been a brilliant debut; it almost hurts to have to talk about why it didn’t work for me. While Thoraiya Dyer’s vision of a vibrant and lush world high above the forest floor is nothing short of breathtaking, I found a curious lack of impetus behind the characters and the plot, and whatever potential the story had at the beginning simply failed to materialize by the end of the book.
The story introduces us to Unar, a young woman living in a destitute household in one of the thirteen kingdoms making up the realm of Canopy. Each kingdom is ruled by its respective god or goddess, and when they die, their spirit is reincarnated into a new human body, beginning the cycle anew. When Unar discovers her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery, she quickly hatches up a plan to supplicate herself before the temple of Audblayin, the patron deity of her domain, hoping to join their ranks as a Gardener serving the fertility goddess. But while she ends up being accepted, Unar’s curiosity and ambitions are a constant source of trouble for the temple, not to mention the frequent clashes caused by her willfulness. Because of her near escape from a life of slavery though, she does come to form a sympathetic bond with some of the temple slaves.
When Audblayin dies, Unar sees this as her chance to fulfill her dreams of becoming a bodyguard for the reincarnation. This leads her to descend into Understorey, the dark and dangerous realm beneath Canopy to search for her newborn god. However, in Understorey’s depths, Unar ends up finding way more than she bargained for, including new forms of magic, a revolution in the making, and perhaps something else she once thought was lost to her forever…
First, I’d like to begin with what I really enjoyed about Crossroads of Canopy because it’s always good to lead with the positives. The world of this novel is simply stunning. It’s impossible to read to this book and not be affected by its vivid descriptions of a realm nestled in the greenery of a giant forest. While settings featuring treetop civilizations may not be an entirely new idea, I have to say I’ve never seen something quite like Canopy. Dyer has created a living, breathing realm teeming with culture, religion, and language. Like any society, it also has its ups and downs—quite literally, in fact, in Canopy, where the elites living at the top close to the sunlight are in a position of privilege while those down below in Understorey and Floor live in shadow and poverty. But even knowing about its darker truths, Canopy was a place I wanted to spend more time in, breathing in its rich atmosphere and natural beauty.
In fact, my main problem with this book was not because it was badly written (on the contrary, the writing is gorgeous), but rather because I was disappointed that it never lived up to its promise. At the end of the day, Crossroads of Canopy feels very much like a book bursting with brilliant ideas when it comes to world-building themes and concepts, but when it comes to story and plotting, things start to look a lot less rosy. There was simply no hook beyond the novel’s extraordinary world; strip it down to its core, and what you get is another standard coming-of-age tale starring a heroine who borders on exasperating in her arrogant and foolishly staunch belief that she is oh-so-special. To be fair though, Unar was probably meant to grow over the course of the book, yet by the time she finally has a change of heart, I found myself so turned off by her character that it almost made no difference.
I also found myself frustrated with the story’s pacing. This book had what I call the “sandwich effect” (an issue which seems to be quite common with debuts), kicking thing off with a fascinating intro and closing with a relatively stirring and eventful conclusion, though everything in between was rather dull and meandering. My attention starting waning somewhere in the middle of Part Two after Unar ventures into the Understorey, and unfortunately I was never able to gain back my initial enthusiasm.
That said, I don’t regret reading this book. While it’s true that the story didn’t work for me, clearly Thoraiya Dyer has got some serious writing chops. If Crossroads of Canopy sounds interesting to you, I would still encourage you to look into it (and check out the reviews by others who liked it more than me) especially if you enjoy gorgeous prose and modern fantasy featuring innovative world-building. Though personally I will not be continuing the Titan’s Forest series, from what I saw in Crossroads of Canopy, I have a feeling the author will be going places.