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.

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of Titan’s Forest

Publisher: Tor (January 31, 2017)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

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.

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40 Comments on “Book Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

  1. Sad. This was on my wish list but the few reviews that have come out have all sat at about the same place as yours. Kind of glad I didn’t request it now.

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    • Yeah I was sad I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped, especially since the summary sounded so interesting! I doubt I’ll continue the series, but if the author starts a new project or publishes some standalone novellas or short stories, I’d probably check them out!

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  2. Thanks for this review! Another person I trust even DNFd this one 😦 So I think I’ll only read this one (I was excited about it ><) if I stumbled upon it for a very cheap price!

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    • I don’t DNF, but if I did, I’d probably be tempted to do it with this one! Several times I just wanted to give up! I ended up powering through to the end and I don’t regret finishing it, but yeah, doubt I’ll continue the series.

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  3. It’s always sad when a promising start and wonderfully shaped world are marred by a cookie-cutter main character we are unable to care for… But since you seem to recognize the potential in this author, it might be worth coming back to some more… refined work and see if time and experience have bettered her approach.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  4. Interesting! I also am intrigued by that set up , the realm in the trees- sounds fascinating. Bummer the story itself didn’t grab you. I’ll probably wait on this one but might grab it down the road, maybe when #2 comes out? Beautiful cover!

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  5. Eek. Seems like you’ve had a rough time with reading lately, between this and Wintersong… And too bad Canopy didn’t work out for you, either. The worldbuilding sounded intriguing, but if the story isn’t all that great… :/

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  6. Oh no, another ya miss! So sorry this seems to be a 2017 trend for you 😦 I had the same problems with it, although I’d definitely be open to reading something else by the author. Apparently she writes fabulous short stories…

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      • Nah, your standards are good. We both know great ya when we read it and many of the new releases just haven’t been quite measuring up. Lots of debut novelists. But there are going to be some tried and true ya veterans releasing later in the year, hang in there! Kristin Cashore, Megan Whalen Turner, Philip Reeve…can’t wait, can’t wait 😀

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  7. Aww man. Your review has me in the middle. The positives are things I love, love in a fantasy story but the negatives are things that I hate in a story. I have this one on my TBR and am looking forward to reading it (because of an article I read by the author and cause of the positives you pointed out), but I have a feeling that I might not like it as much either. My curiosity is winning so I’ll have to give it a read soon.

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  8. For people who don’t need to like a protag in order to enjoy a story, this novel had a lot of levels of social commentary that spec fic readers would really get into. Unar’s journey is typical of the hero’s journey trope in a lot of ways but it certainly isn’t the navel-gazing coming of age story we see with a lot of young protagonists. She’s often stupid and exasperating but that’s what makes the story interesting–when Unar does make a good decision, it’s a direct result of her trying to act on what she is pushing to understand about society and how it’s unfair in a lot of ways she never understood before. Sometimes it turns out well, sometimes not, but she *is* pushing for growth. Dyer is also an award-winning short fiction writer so I think it’s well worth checking out her short fiction if you were let down by the pacing of this debut.

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    • I highly approve of your comment – the book didn’t work too well for me, but from reviews it clearly resonated with many others. While I did not care for the character and the story themes were pretty cliched, the author can SERIOUSLY write. Her prose is gorgeous and she can build a world like no other. I am actually quite curious about her short fiction, as I think her style might work a lot better for me in that format.

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  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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