Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. ★★★
I cannot figure out why I didn’t like this book. It has so much that would normally appeal to me – an inventive fantasy setting, a flawed female lead, a diverse cast – but I just could not get into it. I procrastinated on reading it quite a bit, and it felt like work to reach the end.
Unar lives in the Canopy, the part of the forest city closest to the sun and thus the most elite. However, she has to flee her destitute family when her parents plot to sell her into slavery. She finds a place as a Gardner in the temple of the goddess Audblayin, where she uses her innate magic to help the growth of plants. When Audblayin dies, Unar sees it as a chance to fulfill her destiny by becoming the next incarnation’s Bodyguard. But Unar’s choices will lead her in a direction she never could have imagined.
As far as we know, Unar’s world is one giant forest, divided into Canopy, Understory, and Floor. In turn, the Canopy is divided into thirteen kingdoms, each the domain of one of the gods or goddesses. The forest had the feel of a tropical rainforest, and apparently many of the planets belong to the author’s Australian home. It was brilliantly imaginative and yet it left me cold. I never felt immersed in the setting or fascinated by it. I am at a loss to explain why.
Possibly some of my ambivalence regarding Crossroads of Canopy is because it’s a coming of age story, which I generally dislike. Crossroads of Canopy also heavily features one of my least favorite aspects of the coming of age genre – the young girl’s Sexual Awakening. I get that this is an important narrative for a lot of people… but I don’t relate to it at all. While this isn’t specifically on Crossroads of Canopy, I feel like this narrative tends to get treated like it’s universal, when not everyone experiences it. I also found her fixation on that one guy she’d barely talked to creepy, especially how she imagined that she’d awaken his innate sexuality and make him feel things that he’d never felt before. Urgh, save me now.
In general, I didn’t like Unar. I found her arrogant and self centered. She’s convinced that she is special, and I found it highly obnoxious. I’ve been analyzing myself and trying to figure out if I would judge her so harshly if she was a male character, since readers tend to be less tolerant of heavily flawed female characters. Yet, I can think of female characters who I love that are also arrogant and self centered. Maybe it’s because most of those tend to be anti-heroines while Unar’s presented as more of a straight up heroine? Or maybe because they had more life experience to back up their absurd arrogance? While Unar did have some self-reflection and growth towards the end of the book, it was too little too late. The story had already lost me.
Disliking Unar might not have been so bad if there was a supporting character I could latch onto, but I disliked most of them as well! The only ones who I thought were okay (the three Understory brothers for instance) also felt very forgettable and bland.
Anyway, I’m not recommending Crossroads of Canopy or planning to read the sequel. I do have the feeling that this could end up being one of those books that most people love except for me. If you try it, may you have better luck with it than me.
I received a free ARC of Crossroads of Canopy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.