Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel, Crossroads of Canopy (review copy from Tor) is a fresh take on the fantasy genre. Set in a lush rainforest, Unar runs away from her parents, who want to sell her into slavery, and becomes a junior priestess to Audblayin, goddess of growth and fertility. After Audblayin’s death, the ambitious and rebellious Unar is passed over for promotion, and leaves the temple, vowing to be the person to find the reincarnated Audblayin and become the god’s Bodyguard. Unar leaves Canopy, the part of the forest protected by the gods and goddesses and descends to Understorey, where she discovers a new way of living and uncovers a plot to destroy Canopy.
There’s a lot to like about Crossroads of Canopy. Unar’s growing realisation of the unfairness of the society that she lives in shows us the dark underbelly of privilege. It depends on the exploitation of others. In this case, the slaves sold into servitude and the outcasts living outside Canopy who don’t benefit from the protection of the gods and goddesses above. This is a society of strict hierarchy where the privileged live close to the sun and the rest scrape a living on the edges of society. Unar’s compassion for the slaves is what ultimately leads to her being cast out of her temple and ostracised. Socialism and class awareness are still rare enough things in contemporary fantasy writing, that to see them is always a delight.
The treatment of female friendship and family loyalty is also a particular strength of the book. Unar is close to her fellow initiate Oos, though the two come from widely different backgrounds. Oos is a noblewoman, all grace and elegance next to the tomboyish Unar. Their friendship suffers trials and is repeatedly tested, but it endures and strengthens. But the real joy of the book is Unar’s relationship with her younger sister. Lost as a baby, Unar’s life is shaped by the desire to find her and make restitution. That guilt and drive is shamelessly exploited to Unar’s downfall.
Unfortunately, though, I struggled with Unar herself. She is an angry and rebellious teenager who repeatedly does exceptionally stupid things. That makes her a difficult protagonist to identify with for the whole of the narrative. She does have a lot of growing up to do – and matures significantly over the course of the novel – but it disrupted the flow for me and frequently threw me out of the novel.
Goodreads rating: 3*