The most rational part of my brain understands exactly what I’ve just experienced with this book, but every other part of me, the emotional, the lizard brain, the higher consciousness etc. is absolutely 100% going, “What the fuck did I just read?!” and not in a bad way either.
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, Skyward Inn tells the tale of its owners: Jem, a local girl who ran away as a teenager to serve for a decade spreading propaganda for the Earth Coalition as it conquered the planet Qita, and Isley, the Qitan partner she met while she was away. Once her tour of duty was over, Jem persuaded Isley to come home with her to the Western Protectorate, a closed-off area of Earth with throwback values hearkening to a pastoral idyll, located roughly in Devon, England. At the Skyward Inn, Jem and Isley sell the intoxicating Jarrowbrew that allows Jem’s tongue, so often weighted when there isn’t a script to follow, to finally loosen when it’s just her and Isley, and she can tell him stories of her travels on his home planet. Isley is the only alien of his kind around, but the locals have taken to him, despite murmurs of xenophobic violence from surrounding areas. But when another Qitan arrives needing help, the new arrival sets in motion a chain of events that seems small at first but could change everything Jem thinks she knows and loves.
Interwoven with Jem’s first person narrative is the story told in third person of her son, Fosse, whom she left with her parents and brother in her youthful determination to escape the Protectorate. Fosse is an angry young man of sixteen, and he and Jem barely have any relationship, till the arrival of newcomers prompts him to question his own origins as well as his destiny.
This is a book about life and grief and connection and moving on, or perhaps forward, and it is definitely not for the faint of heart. Even as the most rational part of me is thinking, “That absolutely makes sense scientifically”, the rest of me is flapping its metaphorical arms about, sputtering, “Do not want!” This is, perhaps, the most uplifting book involving body horror that you’ll ever read.
But more importantly, it’s also a book about what changes us, what exposure does to all parties involved and how, in the end, not even The Cheese can stand alone. With its deeper philosophical and sociological underpinnings, it well deserves the comparisons to Ursula K LeGuin’s most thoughtful works. It’s also very modern: there’s a hilarious “what are those” reference in there for those who appreciate a good meme, as I do.
Skyward Inn is weird and wonderful, as only Aliya Whiteley can write. It’s a work of terrifying genius, depicting an alien future that seems equal parts desirable and repulsive, founded entirely on very human observations and truths. If you enjoy speculative fiction and can handle a little horror with your sci-fi, then you absolutely must pick up this book.
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley was published March 16 2021 by Solaris Books and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.