Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer – a review

Another tardy review from a book I read last year, Crossroads of Canopy by Australian author Thoraiya Dyer (*). The recent release of the sequel Echoes of Understorey prompted me to finally put finger to keyboard.

From Goodreads:

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

The first thing that really struck me about this book was the world-building. Societies that have evolved living in the branches of huge trees, with the closer you can get to sunshine, the better off you are. Even though we are seeing the world through a single perspective, Dyer does a wonderful job hinting at a more complex world, leaving me with no doubt that future books will have plenty of material to explore. It does take a couple of chapters to orient yourself in the book, but a small amount of initial effort pays off handsomely.

Dyer has created an interesting pantheon to inhabit her world. No unknowable distant gods here, but 13 very tangible beings constantly reincarnated into new bodies. There were some tantalising hints as to how these gods came to be, and where they might have got their power from. There were also interesting societal consequences explored, when the evolution of your community is done in the presence of such powerful beings.

At first I found the protagonist, Unar, relatively unsympathetic, and a little hard to relate to. I hit a turning point when I started to think of her as a millennial, and those traits that I had initially found a tad grating became more recognisable. I think Dyer has been clever here, and as a result of her early portrayal Unar has a very satisfying character arc. A character drawn in less stark terms at the beginning would not have been capable of such fundamental change/growth.

The book forms a natural canvas for exploring issues of diversity by weaving themes of race, societal status, slavery into the fabric of the story, and the world building.

Dyer is one of Australia’s pre-eminent short fiction writers, and it was a pleasure to see her translate that skill into the novel length market. I am very much looking forward to reading her next book in the series.


(*) I am acquainted with Thoraiya through a writing group that I sporadically attend (it is an excellent writing group, my less than stellar attendance record speaks more to the demands of work and family than any deficiency in the group!). I don’t think this fact has influenced my feelings re: this book, but who knows?

In which roundups, pleasing publication news and awards are contemplated

Hi all, I hope this blog post finds you well.

Aurora Australis is Alex Pierce’s monthly round up of Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction news, in particular focusing on publishing news, published at The September edition is out now, and well worth checking out if you like keeping up on the goings on of the Australian scene. While there are a few names I know listed this month, it is always pleasing to see a lot of names I don’t know – says good things about the health of the antipodean scene. Special shout out and congratulations to Zena Shapter for the announcement that her novel, Towards White, has been picked up  by the discerning people at IFWG Publishing Australia (Zena and I occasionally attend the same writing group, and I always get a kick out of seeing good news about people I have taken tea with!). Cat Sparks is also listed, as having released the cover of her new novel to the world.

Speaking of people it is a pleasure to take tea with, the very excellent Thoraiya Dyer’s upcoming novel, Crossroads of Canopy (book one in the Titan’s Forest trilogy), is now available for pre-order at Amazon (and other fine book retailers I’m sure). I’ve put my preorder in, and going off the quality of Thoraiya’s previous work, I’m very much looking forward to this as a post Christmas read (due out at the end of January 2017).

A reminder that submissions for the Aurealis Awards are open (and closing 7 December 2016), for works published in 2016. The Aurealis Awards are an Australian award which are judged by a panel (as opposed to the Ditmars, which are a popular vote). The awards are very prestigious in Australian circles, and there is a positively plethorific phalanx of 2016 judges lined up for the various categories, including the very excellent Rivqa Rafael, Robert Hood, Kirstyn McDermott and Ion Newcombe.

Tansy Rayner Roberts has been cleaning up her Patreon space, with new reward levels and goals. Roberts is one of the more innovative authors doing the rounds at the moment, and I’ve never regretted throwing my small amount of monthly support in her general direction. Well worth checking out.

The Coode St Podcast has had a run of really interesting interviews over the last few weeks, including Kelly Robson, Alastair Reynolds and Connie Willis, some of which were sourced at the recent world SF convention. The podcast is worth checking out if you’re interested in the history of the field and how it influences current writers.

I’ll publish the final part of my short story “Showdown” next week. What will I do after that? It’s easy to resist giving hints when I don’t know myself… In the meantime, feel free to catch up on parts 1, 2, 3 and 4!

Dimension6 – Issue 8 out now

Keith Stevenson over at coeur de lion publishing produces a regular magazine of Australian speculative fiction, called Dimension6 (you probably worked that out from the title of the post, clever reader that you are).

Dimension6 is shaping up to be an excellent barometer of the state of the Australian scene, and what’s more its free (can’t argue with that). You can download the latest issue directly from the coeur de lion website or get it here (this website acts as an official affiliate for the magazine).

This issue  contains a story ‘Going Viral’ by Thoraiya Dyer. Thoraiya always writes a good story, and ‘Going Viral’ is no different. But I’d draw your attention particularly to her short post-story discussion on the potential of Indonesian based science fiction, which I found very interesting.

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2013 Reading Challenge. All my 2013 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the latest in the excellent Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. It is one of the shorter books in the series, and includes the following stories:

  • After Hours
  • Zadie, Scythe of the West
  • Wish Me Luck
  • Seven Days in Paris

Dyer has been winning a lot of awards over the last few years (e.g. recently won the Aurealis Award for her short piece The Wisdom of Ants) and I was keen to read this collection to get exposed to more of her writing. It is a diverse collection, from secondary world fantasy to science fiction (both far and near future) and with some urban fantasy thrown in for good measure.

After Hours starts the collection, with a tale set in rural Australia where werewolves guard an Australian army base. One of the point of view characters, Jess, is a newly minted vet, looking after the army base guard dogs (amongst other patients). Dyer captures the sense of a newly graduated professional quite well – many years of training behind you, but realising how little it actually applies to the real world. The changing point of view between the vet and a werewolf is effective, and the story conjures a sense of the Australian outback well.

Zadie, Scythe of the West is based in a matriarchal society where women are the warriors, and only able to kill as many people as they have brought into the world to create balance (although interestingly they can severely hurt as many people as they like). None of the characters is entirely sympathetic, but they are all very engaging. Issues of gender imbalance are thrown into sharp relief.

Wish Me Luck is set in a far future when an area of space has been discovered where luck can be harvested and commoditised. Another very engaging character, who starts the story in a very sympathetic light but is a very unreliable narrator. The premise of the world is interesting with a lot of background work done to underpin the story.

Seven Days in Paris explores near future use of technology to seek out terrorists. It is a slow-reveal story, so I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling. I enjoyed the manner in which information is divulged and the ending of the story is lovely. Probably my favourite story of the collection.

I can see why Dyer is gathering such praise. The writing is tight, but very evocative and her development of characters across very short story arcs is enviable. Her thematic exploration of power imbalances in this collection is impressive; to create such an array of very different stories that each throws a contrasting light on the asymmetric theme is quite an achievement.

All in all a very interesting read and a great way to get exposed to one of Australia’s most talented writers in the short form. Highly recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.