Book Review: Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley

Skyward Inn // by Aliya Whiteley

Pub Day: March 16, 2021

Publisher: Rebellion Publishing

Length: 251 pages

Affiliate Link: Buy here on Bookshop.org

Synopsis:

Drink down the brew and dream of a better Earth.

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 Thoughts:

I have been somewhat dreading writing this review because days after finishing this book, I am still not entirely sure what to think about it. It seems that every time I go back to contemplating it, I figure out something new. I usually do not read other people’s reviews of a book either until mine is written so that their opinions cannot influence mine but I even broke that self-imposed rule this time. And again, every time I read one, I find out something new about this book that I didn’t realize before. So it obviously isn’t a story that is just not that great. It is a story that has multiple hidden layers that are slowly peeled back the more you think about it. I am not used to reading books like that so it has been an interesting experience for me.

At its very surface, this is the story of a mother and son, first contact with an alien species, the relationship between humans and that species, and a disease that forces much of Earth to go into quarantine. Peel it back a little though and you will see in more detail the struggle of fitting in for several people and how that affects their lives differently. Rather than seeing a weird inter-species emotional relationship, you’ll understand the reason for the physical distance between the characters. And what about the peaceful meeting of two species that surprised everyone? It took me until the very end of the book to understand this things just weren’t what they seemed.

I am used to much more detail in the SFF books that I read so at first I was pretty underwhelmed by this book. Nonetheless, the weirdness and relative short length compelled me to read it relatively quickly, which then allowed plenty of time for me to sit there stunned. Whiteley impressed me with the way she incorporated community, belonging, individuality, colonialism, othering, fear, adventurism, and so much more into this short book with language that makes you feel as if you are reading a philosophical book. I don’t have much experience with experimental sci-fi but if that is what this book is, then I at least know that I want more of it because I love a book that makes me think about it long after I finish it.

But despite this uniqueness and thought-provoking writing, I was also surprised that an author that for the most part seemed to be so intentional with their writing would spend time on scenes that to me just felt unnecessary. We know that sex is on many teenagers’ minds but the detail of masturbation just felt very out of place to me personally. Is this just another one of those things that I’ll learn to understand later on? Maybe during a reread even? I don’t know. But it did throw me off and kept me at a distance emotionally for a long time because I wasn’t sure anymore if this was the kind of book I really wanted to be reading at that time. It just felt like it was there more for the shock factor than character development or anything else.

Also, despite reading the synopsis beforehand, I wasn’t 100% sure of the location at the start either. Was there another planet aside from Quita and Earth where the inn was located? Were there more species than Quitans and humans that we needed to know about? Is the appearance of Quitans much different to that of humans and could that affect relationships between the species? As I said above, I am used to much more detail in my usual books and while I can see how the lack of it can be very thought-provoking, which for the most part has been very well done in this book, I still think that adding a little bit more detail in certain areas would have helped me get more invested in the story overall.

Added Note: I wrote this review a few weeks before posting it on my blog. I still find myself thinking about it sometimes. I am definitely planning on re-reading it again in the future, maybe even towards the end of this year. It seems that some other readers understood some parts differently than I did, which was very interesting. While I’m still unsure of some of the passages, I am looking forward to picking it up again eventually. I’ve never felt this compelled to re-read something. Thankfully it’s rather short and that I received a beautiful print ARC so it’ll be easy to get to again in the future. I’m definitely tempted to read more of her books!

About the Author:

Aliya Whiteley writes across many different genres and lengths. Her first published full-length novels, Three Things About Me and Light Reading, were comic crime adventures. Her 2014 SF-horror novella The Beauty was shortlisted for the James Tiptree and Shirley Jackson awards. The following historical-SF novella, The Arrival of Missives, was a finalist for the Campbell Memorial Award, and her noir novel The Loosening Skin was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award.

She has written over one hundred published short stories that have appeared in Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Black Static, Strange Horizons, The Dark, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Guardian, as well as in anthologies such as Unsung Stories’ 2084 and Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction.

She also writes a regular non-fiction column for Interzone.

About the Publisher:

Rebellion Publishing; the powerhouse publisher of genre fiction. Based in Oxford, UK, Rebellion has been bringing new and established voices to publication for over 25 years.

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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