Book Review: Skyward Inn – Aliya Whiteley

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

About The Book

Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita. But safety from what?

Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars. Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.

Did humanity really win the war?

My Review

A small disclaimer before I start. I am not a huge reader of Sci-Fi, and thought that this was going to be more dystopia than Sci-Fiction but, to me it felt the other way round. This wasn’t a problem for me at all, but, Sci-Fi is not a genre a read, so it is possible/very likely indeed that if you’re reading this and you are a Sci-Fi reader I may annoy the life out of you by misunderstanding something or completely missing a reference. It’s also possible that you are sitting there saying, “Beverley, what on earth are you waffling on about, how many times can you say Sci-Fi in one paragraph? Get on with the review!” So I will.

With that out of that way, I can talk about Skyward Inn, a peculiar, gorgeous and thought-provoking book set in an imagined future. Earth has been at war with a planet, Qita, a place rich with minerals that are now obsolete from our own planet. We didn’t so much as win the war, as the Qitans rolled over and let us take over, allowing us to mine the resources there and bring them back to Earth.

The titular Skyward Inn is a pub in the Western Protectorate, formerly Devon, but now a place which rejects the modern advances sweeping the rest of the country and world. The pub is run by Jem, sister of Dom, who is head of the council and mother of Fosse, a teenage boy who rather than living with his mother, lives with his uncle. Jem runs the pub with Isley, a Qitan who she met whilst she worked on Qita. The pub is the centre of village life with the residents spending their evenings there trading their wares for alcohol and Brew, a Qitan drink which makes the drinker peaceful, relaxed and absorbed in pleasant memories.

Written in alternate chapters, with Jem’s first person narrative allowing us into her head, and Fosse’s third person narrative allowing us to see what life is like in the Protectorate. Funnily enough, for the most part, it is similar to the life we have now. Interspersed with Jem and Fosse’s chapters are notes taken from Council meetings which are wonderful slices of wry humour portraying the minutiae and pettiness of life; what should they do with a surplus of apples? Why hasn’t the request box been produced yet (answer, Mr Samuels is too busy), and what should they do about the abandoned farm?

Aside from that, there is the dystopia which I love to read about. I love being in a book set in a landscape I know but everything is slightly different. There’s a lot of world building in the book, and the gaps and absences add to the world, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. It is skilfully written and utterly absorbing, especially with regards to the gradual threat looming on the horizon.

This is a short book but it packs a hell of a lot in. The writing is poetic and literary and it touches on themes like, family and otherness in a tender and heartfelt way. There are sections set on the planet Qita which felt like I was almost in a dream, the writing is so beautiful and other-worldly (excuse the pun) that I felt transported there.

It’s difficult to say much about the plot without spoilers beyond the above so I won’t, but I found it utterly absorbing and, despite it clearly being fiction, totally believable. It is a remarkable book that, as I say, is outside of my usual genre, but I really loved it. I was impressed it’s themes, it’s plotting, it’s humanity and sensitivity and I found it, at times, exceptionally moving. Recommended.

About The Author

Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Black Static, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and anthologies such as Unsung Stories’ This Dreaming Isle and Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction I and II.

Her novella for Unsung Stories, The Beauty, was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and a Sabotage Award, and appeared on the Honors List for the James Tiptree Jr Award. Her novel The Loosening Skin, was shortlisted for The Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Her writing is often violent, tender, terrifying and funny. It has garnered much critical praise and provoked discussion. 

Where You Can Buy It

My thanks to Hanna Waigh at Rebellion Publishing for sending me a copy of the book.

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is out now in both hardcover and ebook.

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