Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for sending me this ARC.
Phew, where do I start with this surrealistic story that grabbed me and did not want to let me go until I finished, late at night, even though I had to be up early in the morning?
I usually like books full of action and interactions, not because I do not have appreciation for beautiful prose or like books that are about something else, but lately I’ve been struggling to focus. And yet, this book had my full attention even though its purpose was entirely different. The writing flowed so easily that I did not want to miss a single word. Aliya does not give you answers, she makes you think and make your own assumptions, and so this review will be subjective. Did I understand the story the way the author wanted me to? I am not sure, but then, I think perhaps there isn’t only one right answer. I think everyone will understand it based on their own experiences and beliefs. And so this will make it the most difficult review I have ever written.
This book is partly sci-fi and partly a commentary on us and our world right now. Western Protectorate is a “safe haven” in once United Kingdom – that is if you believe that cutting yourself from the rest of the world is the best thing to do for the people. Sounds familiar? The answer is not so black and white. Nothing in this story is.
We are introduced to Jem and Isley, who are friends, maybe more, who run the Skyward Inn, a place where people come to drink, eat, and talk about the world before the war with Qita – except there was no war, because Qita let the humans in peacefully.
Isley is an outsider – the one kindly let in by humans, after they deemed him worth them. Or, needed enough. Yes, the humans who invaded his home, and now take things from Qita to Earth. The humans loving his special brew. Some of them are even protective and stand up for him when someone has a problem with him. Some are decent even if need to be slightly manipulated into it or as long as the outsider stays in their place. Some simply are. We are complicated. And some so uncomfortable with outsiders and yet so keen to take from them, completely failing to see the hypocrisy of it.
Give, but do not touch. Give, but stay in your lane. Give, but do not expect anything back. Give, but I am better than you. Give, but what I want and when I want it.
The first half of the book was uncomfortable to read without the author creating horrifying scenes. It is the quietness and subtleness, the feeling always there, that hit harder than a scene created for shock purpose would. It was uncomfortable for me, because I know how being an outsider feels, and it will hopefully be uncomfortable to read for everyone, because it should be. The author portrays a futuristic UK where another world has been discovered and what happens is so easily reflected in the world today. Humans just wanting peace with Qita, or in other words, humans invading to take and at the same time making rules who can come to them and only when they need them. Because they’re better than them.
Well, what does it all remind you of?
Mostly, Jem and Isley live comfortably, alone, their Inn a success. One day another Qita comes in, needs their help. And this is when the world begins to end.
And where the author turns everything on its head.
Are Qita really as peaceful as they are believed to be? How does their world look like? Is there a conspiracy theory? A revenge? A way of living? A secret? An ignorance?
What purpose Fosse, and others characters, have?
What is happening to people and what is it, where does it come from?
How does the world end?
What happens after?
What choices do we have?
What is the perfect world? Is it the one where humans speak only one language, know what each other think, share everything? Or the one where we think for ourselves, enjoy our differences, our cultures, our languages? Is it better to be the same or be different? Does being different means being alone? Does being the same means being together? Should everyone be together? What do we lose when we are all the same or all different? How many will look for something different to what they have and how many will accept the life they know?
And, finally, which characters begin with which idea of a perfect world and end on which side?
I do not want to say more because I would feel like spoiling it and this is not a book I want to spoil. Sit with it one night, let it wrap around you, let it make you think, wonder, assume. Meet those characters and try to understand them and their world.
And then us and ours.
The Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is out on March 16 in US and March 18 in U.K.