(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Canopy, by Emancipator (Spotify, YouTube).
I tend to think and re-think a lot what books to read (so many books, so little time!) so it is very strange for me to see just the cover and synopsis of a novel and decide, almost instantly, that I need to get it, without knowing anything about the author and without having read any review or opinion online. But that's exactly what happened to me with Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya's Dyer debut novel. I saw that an ARC was available at NetGalley and, impulsively, decided to request it. And it turned out that my hunch was quite right.
The first thing that stands out from Crossroads of Canopy is the amazing and very original worldbuilding. Dyer has imagined a whole world that exists on the canopy of a huge forest, with different kingdoms, cities, gods and beasts that are a delight to discover. The magic system is also wonderful, with a lot of depth and many surprises that the author unveils drop by drop.
The way that the author subverts some of the usual tropes in high fantasy is also very refreshing. The story has just a little bit of Campbell's monomyth, but our protagonist, Unar, is much more focused on completely changing the status quo than your average hero. In fact, there is a lot of social criticism and exploration in the novel. The world is divided in three different classes (Canopy, Understorey and Floor), something that drastically affect how people are treated and what rights they have:
"And if you desired to feel the sun, what then? If you need fresh fruits to cure a child's illness? What if you had fallen and your family remained above, and they were forced to watch while demons ate the flesh off your bones?"
"That would be my misfortune." (...)
"Why them and not us?"
"Canopians are born under the gods' protection. It's your misfortune, as I said."
"Why can they not protect everyone? Are they so weak?"
"No! That is, I don't now..."
"One Forest," Kirrik said. "One people. That is what the Master seeks in the future. That is what we hope to achieve. We believe the gods can and should protect everyone. And if they cannot, they are not true gods, and should be killed to allow the Old Gods to return."
This, together with the original magic system, reminded me of N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Fifth Season, where similar issues are also examined.
The characters are also perfect for this kind of atypical fantasy story. Unar, for instance, is a very compelling case of a flawed but charismatic protagonist. She has a really clear goal that, sometimes, makes her take the wrong decisions, but despite that, she can still rethink her attitude when confronted with a moral dilemma. A very intriguing and really three-dimensional character, as many of the others in the novel. I did especially like the way the gods and their servants are depicted, all of them with their quirks and unique personalities.
The plot is also interesting, with some nice twists and unexpected turns, but I found it a bit uneven sometimes. For instance, some of the chapters that take place in Understorey felt a bit longer than necessary, while the ending was, comparatively, much more rushed. Also, although the tone is very appropriate and well-chosen, the prose was too flowery for me in places, making some scenes a bit confusing.
In any case, and despite the pacing problems, I enjoyed Crossroads of Canopy quite a lot and I recommend reading it. Thoraiya Dyer has invented a fascinating world, full of magic, monsters, gods and intriguing characters. Also, there are many open threads and unanswered questions by the end of the book, so I am looking forward to reading the next volume in the series to find out what happens to Unar and her friends.