Today I want to review a book that I still feel pretty torn about. Crossroads of Canopy is a debut fantasy novel by Australian author Thoraiya Dyer who identifies as a PoC and has received some buzz for her short stories. It was a book which I had on my list of most anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy releases for 2017 but it ended up falling pretty flat for me. It wasn’t that it was a bad book, it just didn’t blow me away
as I had expected it to do.
Crossroads of Canopy is set in a world that is full of lush
forests. At the top of these forest trees we have Canopy, aworld ruled over by thirteen gods who are reincarnated in human bodies every time they die. Below Canopy there are two other realms, Understory and Floor. The Canopians arehellbent on keeping the people of these other realms out and the only time you will find Understorians or Floorians in Canopy is when they have been captured and taken as slaves. From the outset the cruel nature of the rulers of Canopy and of life in Canopy is made clear and juxtaposed with the comfortable life which wealthy Canopians or free Canopians who serve the gods are lucky live at the top of the trees near the sun.
We follow Unar, a brown skinned Canopian who has ran away from home in order to avoid having her parents sell her into slavery. She goes to the Garden of Audblayin, goddess of fertility and growth, convinced that she has enough magic to serve Audblayin as their bodyguard if they are reincarnated in the body of a man. Unar doesn’t like following the rules of the Garden, a fact which frequently gets her into trouble and which puts her dreams in jeopardy. However, Unar’s refusal to follow the rules opens her eyes to the unjust way in which the Canopians treat the Understorian slaves when she befriends two slaves who work in the garden. This friendship and realisation sets the plot in motion and sees Unar struggle to reconcile her Canopian identity and dreams of being a bodyguard with inequality and ill treatment of the other races which she sees before her.
Long plot summary aside this book definitely had some interesting and unique aspects which probably will result in me picking up the sequel. Firstly the world was really unique. Apart from Enid Brighton’s Faraway Tree which I read when I was really young I don’t think I have ever read a fantasy novel set in the trees. I have read books set in woods but in the actual trees, not so much. My one issue with this was that I don’t really feel like the descriptions were really up to par. I did struggle a lot of the time to envisage what the setting looked like or how a tree was big enough to house a garden or a river to swim across. I often have issues with visualising certain situations so this may just be a me thing but all the same I definitely longed for a greater degree of description in this regard. I think that as the setting is so unique a better grounding for the reader in the world would have been helpful and would have made the story more immersive and more addictive.
I enjoyed the representation in this book. The Canopians are brown skinned people and the Understorians are pale skinned. Presumably this is connected to the fact that Canopians live in the tree tops and are exposed to more sunlight and therefore need more melanin while Understorians get very little access to sunlight and thus much like the majority of Irish people, including myself, are pale and white. I also think it is interesting to see the situation in our world where the white race are generally dominant over darker skinned people turned on its head as the Canopians are the more powerful race and they have darker skin. In this way it kind of reminded me of the Noughts and Crosses books by Malorie Blackman which I read in primary school, as a young white kid growing up in a country where the vast majority of people around me were white I found it to be very tough provoking and that was true again here. Also, it is worth noting that in both Crossroads of Canopy and Noughts and Crosses both the light skinned and dark skinned races are equally flawed, in some ways they are kind and beneficent but there are cruel people on both sides and they operate in a society in which there is a great degree of institutionalised racism. As such, in neither case would I say there is any kind of racially coded discrimination bubbling under the surface although I am open to being challenged on that point if you disagree.
What really didn’t work for me in this book were the plot twists. There was one in particular I called about 100 pages before it happened. In fact I think you would need to have not paid any attention to the huge degree of foreshadowing which was going on in order not to call this particular twist because it was so bloody obvious. Furthermore, however, it was just so freaking convenient. It was clearly something which was done to manipulate and drive the plot but as a reader you could tell it wasn’t in any way organic but rather you could clearly see the author pulling the strings behind the scenes, controlling how everything played out. That kind of convenience is something which always gets to me in books as the simple fact of the matter is that yes coincidences do happen in life but at the same time you need to be realistic. Sorry for the cloak and daggers stuff, I don’t want to spoil anyone but I do want to register my frustration with that aspect as that particular ‘twist’ wasn’t the only predictable or convenient element, it was just the most egregious one.
The final major issue for me was the pacing. I felt like this was way off. The author spent the first 40% or so of the book on set up. While I am more than happy to accept that world building at the start of a fantasy series is important, I prefer being launched into a world and being fed elements and descriptions a little bit at a time while simultaneously following the action. I found myself bored with the first part of the book and questioning if it was something I wished to continue on with. I think the pace picked up in the latter half of the book as Dyer found her feet. As such, I reckon that the second book probably won’t suffer from the same problems.
All in all, not the cracker of the book I was hoping for but still a solid start to a different and diverse fantasy series that I do plan to continue on with when the sequel is releases next year.
I received a digital advanced readers copy of this book from Tor in return for an honest review. This book will be released on January 31st.