Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley
Published by Solaris on the 16th March 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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?

I leapt at the chance to read Skyward Inn having previously been equally enthralled and baffled by Aliya Whiteley's historical science fiction novel, The Arrival Of Missives. Skyward Inn shares some similarities in its rural English setting, this time in the Western Protectorate which is a future independent Devon and Cornwall, politically split away from the rest of what was England, but still financially dependent for trade. Elements of Western Protectorate life are recognisably unchanged - council meetings, evenings in the pub, apple harvests, and inappropriate humour from the vicar - but this is obviously an impoverished community which cannot afford to waste any of its resources.

I loved how Whiteley sets up the circumstances of this novel, hiding the most salient points in plain view so, as a reader, I accepted as normal things that I should perhaps have questioned much earlier. This lack of suspicion however is also true for the villagers, struggling through their daily lives without really noticing anything untoward. Jem herself is a fascinating character. A woman who, when young, abandoned her son in order to escape claustrophobic Western Protectorate culture, she spent a decade on the alien world of Qita, only to eventually find herself pretty much exactly back where she started with only the existence of her Qitan love, Isley, as a remembrance of her travels. Isley, the sole Qitan in this community, is subject to jokey racism from the villagers. Pub goers compliment him on how well he fits in, but fail to include him in anything more companionable than cooking their food.

Whiteley contrasts Qita with the Western Protectorate so well that I was completely convinced by both environments. In fact, despite its alien landscapes and life, I never once found myself questioning the plausibility of any of the characters or their decisions. I even experienced a real yearning to join at the end (which surprised me. I'm rarely a 'joining in' kind of person.). It's difficult to really talk about Skyward Inn without giving something away that should be discovered through reading this profound novel, rather than its reviews. I am delighted to have had this opportunity to read it myself and enthusiastically recommend the book to fans of speculative fiction, thoughtful science fiction, and stories about loners.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Aliya Whiteley / Science fiction / Books from England

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