Books

Skyward Inn (Aliya Whiteley) – Book Review

Skyward Inn introduces readers to the Western Protectorate, a small part of Devon that’s rejected the fast evolving modern world outside of its walled borders, a world where people use AI implants and travel to distant planets. The people inside the Protectorate have chosen a simpler life instead, growing their own food, building their homes themselves, and relying on nothing from the outside. It’s here that we meet Jem, a woman who grew up in the Protectorate, but left her home for years to travel to the distant world of Qita, where humanity had begun expanding.

During her time on Qita she met and fell in love with one of the world’s inhabitants, Isely. Veterans from both sides of a small war that never was, they found friendship and comfort in each other, and Isely returned to Earth with Jem once her tour was finished. Now the two of them run the Skyward Inn, a small tavern overlooking the village where Jem grew up, a village she no longer really feels a part of. Having worked hard for the locals to accept Isely, and still working to reforge her relationship with her estranged son, Jem’s life is thrown off course when another Qitan who knows Isely arrives at the Inn, asking for their help.

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Skyward Inn is a strange story, one that mixes together old ways of life, of remote rural living, with alien worlds and the fear of the alien and the unknown. It takes a very familiar, simple way of life that most readers will be familiar with, that some might even desire to pursue (no more social media, offices, or commutes sounds wonderful) and begins to add strange elements that alter this dream existence into something very different.

Despite presenting two opposing ways of life, the quiet life that shuns technology, and another where travel to the stars is possible, the book isn’t really about that. It doesn’t ask big questions about which way of life is better, or if there needs to be a balance between the old way of the world and the future; instead, it focuses on the people in the story, and asks questions about what it means to be human. The book is concerned about relationships, how people connect, and what it means to be a part of each other’s lives.

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I feel like I’m struggling to describe the book, but I think that’s part of what makes it a really interesting read. It’s not a simple story. It raises questions and themes through metaphor. It bends time and perception in ways that you wouldn’t expect, and the story doesn’t follow a path that you expect. I’m sure that if you were to read it you would have a different experience of it than I, because it felt strangely personal, like the author had managed to get inside my head and was making me examine my own relation to the world and what certain things meant to me.

Skyward Inn might not be for everyone, it has a very leisurely pace, and twists narratives together in unusual ways that might not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you like the strange, if you like stories that are multi-layered and get under your skin, this is probably something that you’ll really like. With strong, well defined characters, and some big questions on the very nature of what it means to exist, Skyward Inn is a book that will get you thinking.

Skyward Inn is out on 18th March from Solaris.

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