Unar has always been sure that she will one day be the Goddess Audblayin’s bodyguard. In a world where the thirteen Gods and Goddesses of the rainforest whose treetops she lives in die and are reincarnated in the manner of Tibetan Lamas, Unar is certain in her heart that she was meant not just to be a slave, as her parents intended. She wasn’t even meant just to be a gardener for the Goddess of growth and fertility, as she has managed to become. Unar has striven so hard to get to the garden and her current position; she is convinced that she is meant for much more.
With the death of Audblayin, the Goddess’ reincarnation is certain, although the child of course must be found, brought to the Garden and raised properly. Given the nature of deities, though, Audblayin could be reincarnated as a man. As a man, the deity will need a female bodyguard. That’s the rule. Audblayin has to reincarnate as a Man, and the bodyguard he will need has to be Unar. Unar is convinced of this, and it has been her guiding passion for her entire life. But in the uncertain environment of the Garden without its Goddess, Unar is forced out of the garden she has lived years in, and even beyond the barrier that separates the Canopy from the world below it. Unar’s journey is full of dreams of finding the reincarnated Goddess and returning to the Garden in triumph and restored station. However, her trip down into the understory of the rainforest dredges up her past, her future, and reveals a force that might upset the order of the entire rainforest.
Crossroads of Canopy is the debut novel from Australian Fantasy author Thoraiya Dyer.
Drawing on the lush environment of the rainforests in her home state of New South Wales, the novel features a uniquely crafted and amazingly well thought out environment for her protagonist and other characters. While forests in fantasy are nothing new, the author’s conception of setting her fantasy novel in a rainforest laden with magic definitely is something rare in fantasy. A hierarchical social structure, with deities and those who worship them living always in the canopy, where the sun is, and the underprivileged living in the depths of the understory and even further below, perhaps is most definitely new and unique in fantasy. The gorgeous cover of the novel captures, in image, what the author paints with words: a lush fantasy environment, full of the sense of wonder.
Dyer envisions this unique geography and landscape vividly and winningly, and combines that physical landscape with an imaginative magical one. The author does an excellent job in combining the coming of age story of the protagonist with the revelations and development of the magical and physical landscapes that she traverses. We learn about the world as Unar travels it, feeding readers like myself who are fascinated with the world that the author has created. The combination of the rainforest, the magic, the deities and their intersection provides a sturdy trunk for the tree of the novel to stand tall on.
The challenge as a reader, for me, is in the central character of Unar. The author has, in her novel, taken on the task of portraying a young, callow and often very unlikeable protagonist. Unar acts out, acts rashly and badly, for frankly selfish and unappealing reasons. Keeping hold of her story and keeping readers from bouncing off of her story is a difficult task that the author has set for herself, that the author mostly manages. There were times and situations in the novel where the appeal of the worldbuilding and the rest of the universe faded a bit in the reading, because of my reaction to the protagonist. As the plot proceeds, however, and Unar herself undergoes change, I felt the book was more comfortable, more assured, and much more to my taste. Readers who are not fans of protagonists who need warming up to, however, are likely to have the same issues with the book that I did.
In the end, I am indeed not so much interested in how Unar’s story continues in subsequent volumes, but I am definitely intrigued by the world the author has created in Crossroads of Canopy, and the revelations and worldbuilding yet to come in subsequent volumes.