Skyward Inn was certainly unique. I took a few days after I finished reading this book to collect my thoughts and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel. Aliya Whiteley succeeded at creating an engaging novel that captivates the reader. I was thoroughly invested in the story and I didn’t want to put the book down, however, I’m not sure if that’s a credit to the actual writing or simply an indication of how confused I was and much I wanted answers.
We burn history down, over and over, as an act of remembrance. When there are no answers, there is recollection, and repetition.
– Aliya Whiteley
I was a bit irked by the alternating points-of-view (Jem’s was first person, yet Fosse’s was third person) and I thought that some unnecessary elements were added simply to unsettle the reader, when the surrealist nature of the book would have been sufficiently unsettling on it’s own. I really could have done without Fosse’s masturbatory scenes at the farm and the rather distasteful revelation about “brew” and bodily fluids. There was also a sudden and unexplained timeline shift toward the end of the book that didn’t feel all that effective as a plot device.
Initially, the book seemed to be a commentary about colonialism and the exploitation of indigenous peoples, their land and their resources. When the “Kissing Gates” appear on Earth, humans immediately seize the opportunity to mount a military incursion on the planet of Qita. They then take advantage of the Qitan’s peaceful nature in order to appropriate the planet’s resources and bring them back to Earth. Ultimately, it is revealed that the Qitan’s aren’t quite as docile as they appear, and that maybe it isn’t the humans who are the colonizers. So perhaps the story is actually a critique of human arrogance. Either way, it was a stunning twist that I very much was not expecting. The author also makes a powerful statement about the nature of assimilation and how little choice people are often given in the matter.
Most of the story is set in the Western Protectorate, which seceded from the UK and rejected all modern technology following the appearance of the Kissing Gates. I thought that the Western Protectorate beautifully encapsulated the concept of hiraeth, a Welsh word with no true English equivalent that can be translated as a “longing for a home that no longer exists or never was”. Many characters in the book have an idealized, nostalgic view of the Protectorate that they try to cling to even if change is inevitable. I think that in our rapidly changing world, where technology seems to take precedence, the desire for simpler times will resonate with a lot of readers.
At then end of the day, I do think that Skyward Inn is a worthwhile read. Stylistically, it’s quite different from other books on the market and the content will challenge the reader’s perceptions and leave them thinking long after they finish reading.
Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris Books for providing this ARC.