Book Review: Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley

This week, I’m reviewing Aliya Whiteley’s new novel, Skyward Inn. Whatever you might be expecting from this book, you’re probably wrong. This fair and unbiased review was conducted with gratitude for the free electronic copy of the book which I received from the publisher, Solaris.

This review contains an affiliate link to, which will earn me a commission if used, and will help to support independent bookshops.

Jem runs the Skyward Inn with her Qitan companion Isley, where she sells the nostalgia inducing drink Jarrowbrew to the locals of the Western Protectorate – formerly the West Country. Having annexed themselves from the rest of the UK, they exist in a simpler time, their view of space shuttles launching from Swansea anachronistic with their technologically regressive rural lifestyle. But the situation is far from idyllic – Jem’s teenage son Fosse has never forgiven her for abandoning him to the care of his uncle Dom when she left to see the alien world of Qita, and his resentment has been allowed to fester. When outsiders arrive, both Fosse and Jem will be tested, their pasts and their possible futures colliding.

Skyward Inn is a difficult book to pin down. Anyone reading a review for a piece of art will want the salient facts of the work being assessed, and instantly we run into problems here. Is it science fiction? Is it horror? Literary fiction? There are elements of all three, its delightful refusal to conform to a niche perhaps pushing it toward New Weird more than anything. What is certain is that this is a deeply strange and intensely melancholy book, both beguiling and unsettling in equal measure. It’s charming one minute and disturbing the next, a futuristic fairy tale-cum-gothic horror that will live rent free in your brain for days afterwards as you attempt to unpick its mysteries.

Central to Skyward Inn is the theme of relationships, whether it be the shaky one between Jem and Fosse, the strong but non-physical bond shared by Jem and Isley or the multiple other connections we see develop throughout. The very human need to belong and the fear of loneliness wars with Fosse’s yearning for independence, or if not a yearning for independence then at the very least a desire not to be around Jem. Everything is left unsaid between the two of them; her inability to know how to talk to her estranged son perfectly suiting his total lack of interest in forming any kind of meaningful relationship with her. You won’t so much will them to communicate as you will lament their inability to.

This is a novel of paradoxes in many ways, but not the normal science fiction kind where someone accidentally kills their own grandfather. No, these are the very human, grounded paradoxes which we cope with every day of our lives. The desire to belong yet also the drive for individuality. The search for meaning with the unwillingness to accept the truth. For all the unsettling, totally alien touches, there is something utterly human about Skyward Inn. There are big unanswerable questions, not just in terms of the plot but in those we torment ourselves with so often as a species. Belong or be free? Fight or flight?

The destination of choice when it comes to flight is the world of Qita, where Isley hails from and the world Jem abandoned Fosse to go and explore. Having been granted access to it after the discovery of the Kissing Gate, humanity looked set to begin a typically bloody conquest. The Qitans, however, did not put up a fight, with the entire world conquered bloodlessly. Qita is a strange place, yet another mystery to be mulled over, with its inhabitants not easily compared with other alien races. The rich prose which Whiteley uses to describe the Western Protectorate is equally well suited to conjuring up this alien landscape and its strange inhabitants; details about both are sketched in rather than being pinned down with taxonomic exactitude, giving everything a hallucinatory, dream-like quality. Qita feels elusive and unknowable, the perfect contrast to the instantly familiar and deceptively cosy Western Protectorate.

Elusive and unknowable might just be the best way to describe Skyward Inn itself. It resists easy classification and conventions and refuses to give up its secrets willingly; it’s a vividly described fever dream, a haunting journey that doesn’t end just because the last page has been turned. It’s a journey I suggest you take for yourself.

Skyward Inn is published by Solaris, and releases on the 16th of March. You can order your own copy through this affiliate link.

Currently reading: Veniss Underground, Jeff VanderMeer
Currently listening: Division of Blood, Suicidal Angels

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley

  1. Lovely review, Ollie. I’m reading this soon myself and it sounds intriguing. Whiteley is such a unique author and I’m glad to see her latest is living up to that description😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading, thank you! It took a long time to know how to approach this one, as even fleeting mentions of the plot could stray into spoiler territory. I look forward to seeing what you make of it, I’m definitely excited to read more of her work now (have had The Beauty satnin my Kindle library for flipping ages!).


  2. I don’t see an issue with categorization: literary fiction / mainstream is anything not in a subgenre. Did you want to express that the narration was very good / flowery / high-browed? You can attribute SF or Fantasy without falling back to the genre of literary fiction.
    As for horror, that‘s a cross-cutting genre and can be freely combined with other genres – there is horror fantasy, horror SF, or horror literary fiction (which counts as horror). Same is true for detective stories or police procedures or similar. /discuss

    Liked by 1 person

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