Skyward Inn (2021) by Aliya Whiteley

I’ve been a fan of Aliya Whiteley since I was recommended her 2014 novella “The Beauty“. That was a strange, surprising, and stunning story about a future England in which the women have all died. Poetic, creepy, intelligent, it blew my mind on first reading it. Here’s a link to my short review. So when I heard the author had a new book out, I put my other reading on hold and dived into Skyward Inn.

My Synopsis

A star-gate has opened the way to the peaceful planet of Qita. Meeting little resistance, humans have built a small colony on the planet and are making use of its resources. Back on Earth in what used to be Devon, England, Jem runs the Skyward Inn with her Qitan companion Isley. This small pub in the “Western Protectorate” is popular with the local farmers who enjoy drinking its prized Qitan “brew”. Their idyllic quiet is upset when an unexpected visitor from Isley’s past turns up at the Inn.

My Thoughts

Skyward Inn is a post-first contact story which skillfully explores both alien and human relationships. If you are looking for action, it would be better to look elsewhere. The story starts slowly, introducing the main characters and gradually building the setting. We are in a rural part of southern England known as the Western Protectorate. The people living here have separated themselves from the rest of the country and the powerful Coalition. They have chosen to live simply and farm the land, using a system of barter for the exchange of goods and services.

Jem has returned to the Protectorate after spending time on the planet Qitan as part of the invasion force. Her relationship with the Qitan Isley is unclear at first. After closing the Inn at night, they share brew and stories of their time on the distant planet. Author Whiteley delivers brief glimpses of the alien world via recollections between the two characters. There is limited exposition, instead the reader is able to put the bits and pieces of information together to form a tantalizing picture of another world. The lack of info-dumps might frustrate some readers, but I found it refreshing.

“Alone at last.” He says it every time we’ve got the place to ourselves. He practiced his English on Tung Base, millions of miles away, by watching old films, and sometimes I can imagine the kind of drama he thinks we’re in. The lamps on the walls are burning low. I love this time, time between times. It’s a soft grey bleed from night into morning.’

-Aliya Whiteley, Skyward Inn

This slow reveal of the planet Qita continues through the first half of the book. We get to know more about the community Jem lives in, her brother Dom and her estranged teenage son Fosse. The way the author builds up their relationships is masterful, and it pays off in the second half of the book. These are complicated characters with their own problems and conflicts, yet I got completely invested in them. Jem’s teenage son Fosse is one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in what feels like a long time. There were moments when I was genuinely shocked by his story, a wonderful feeling because it reminded me that good fiction can truly move us.

After the gradual buildup of the characters and setting, Whiteley unleashes her imagination in a jaw-dropping second half that takes place both on Earth and Qitan. To go into much more detail would be to spoil the pay off, so I will keep this brief. Just be aware that Whiteley has a penchant for intelligent weird fiction. I’ve read reviews which have described the final third of the novel as a mash up of Jeff VanderMeer, Ursula K. Le Guin and H.P. Lovecraft. There are hints of them all, but I second the Le Guin comparisons. A lot of the atmosphere of Skyward Inn reminded me of Le Guin’s excellent 1969 novel The Dispossessed. Just don’t forget the injections of the weird!

I am a fan of Aliya Whiteley’s style of writing and Skyward Inn did not disappoint. This is a BIG recommend from me. Thanks for reading!


The Titan Books edition of Whiteley’s The Beauty

19 thoughts on “Skyward Inn (2021) by Aliya Whiteley

    • Ha ha! *Another one* on the list. Thanks for the kind words, Sean. I appreciate it. It’s one of those books that is difficult to get across exactly why it worked for you, if you know what I mean. A slow-build to a great payoff, characters that feel real, a deep, layered story that seems simple on the surface. And that crazy final third.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m completely unfamiliar with this author so I appreciate the great introduction. And that it reminded you of Le Guin, that’s saying something in my mind, though I’ve not read nearly enough Le Guin. Added to my weighty and ever-growing list. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

      • Not likely, but I’m ok with that. I’d much rather drown in books than run out of new ones to read. If I stop buying now I think I still have many, many years worth sitting unread on my shelves and ereaders. But of course, what are the odds I’ll stop buying now? πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the review – and this site, which I’ve only just come across. I’m an Aliya Whiteley fan (I read the Loosening Skin before this), and this latest book’s set near my part of the world (Bristol). I wanted to ask whether you’d be so kind as to review my gothic cyberpunk novel, Vampires of Avonmouth, but I can’t seem to find your contact details. You can contact me via the book’s web site vampiresofavonmouth dot com. All best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment and for visiting my blog. I need to read The Loosening Skin, it’s on my pile.

      Due to time limits, I don’t review books requested by authors or publishers. Best wishes and good luck with your novel.


  3. Yup, agree, it’s good. That end is completely illogical but stays with you a long time. I must say I didn’t warm up to the characters, but Whiteley’s imagination is really impressive! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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