Skyward Inn | Review
Rating - ⭐⭐
"Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita. But safety from what?
Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars. Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.
Did humanity really win the war?"
Skyward Inn is a standalone sci-fi novel by Aliya Whiteley.
You could argue that I just didn't appreciate the book for what it is or that I didn't understand it, but that doesn't change the fact that I did not have a good experience reading this book.
I was excited going into this book because I have been on the hunt for SFF books involving an inn, and was hoping that this would work for me. It didn't. There were a lot of thoughts that came to my mind while reading this like: what is this book trying to say, and what is the point of this story? The answer to those questions would be I don't know because I honestly have no idea what this book was.
It is speculative fiction, and I have read some before, granted they were short stories, but I am not entirely new to the subgenre. Unfortunately for me, speculative in this case meant that absolutely nothing of substance happened for the vast majority of the book, and then things got chaotic and weird.
Another warning sign that completely flew right past me is the fact that this book was inspired by Jamaica Inn, a novel by Daphne du Maurier. Retellings and books that borrow heavily from other novels are like my kryptonite, they just don't work for me for some reason.
I usually reserve a rating of 2 and below for books that made me mad, and while this didn't make me mad per se, there was nothing I liked about this and I didn't get the point of this book, so I cannot justify giving it even just a 'meh' rating.
After this rather long-winded intro, let's get into the details.
I had a bit of a hard time reading this for several reasons. My biggest hindrance was the tone of the writing. Something about it felt very detached or stiff, like I was not supposed to make a connection with the story or I was not welcome to.
At times the writing sounded a bit pretentious as well if that is the correct word to use. Sentences like "He rejected the impetus to speak of it" sounded off because it was supposed to be coming from the mind of a 16-year-old boy, and it just didn't match. Also, using sentences like "there's a sound coming from stage left", bothered me because of the tone.
There were also just some sentences that were simply awkward to read, such as "It's a good thing to drink to. We drink."
The perspectives switched randomly within the chapters which is never something I like, and Jem's POV confused me because it switched between I/you pronouns which is confusing to read.
There is some vague semblance of a plot, one that is all over the place, but nothing interesting really happens and I just don't get what this story was trying to get at. I will try and articulate the plot as best as I can and without spoiling anything which is...hard to do considering the fact that the plot only really kicks in at the end.
We follow Jem and Isley who run the Skyward Inn and end up having an unexpected guest that is not supposed to be there. We also follow Fosse, Jem's son, who lives separately from his mother. That's all I can really say as not much really happens for most of the book.
The further I got into the story and the more the plot started to reveal itself, however, the more the plot lost me because I had no idea what was going on anymore. This was just an overall unenjoyable experience because I went from being bored and confused, to weirded out and very confused.
Due to the nature of the plot, we don't get much context as to why they are where they are and what happened in the past in general. That is an issue for me because I like a good set-up and a lot of info-dumping that helps establish the world.
This takes place in the future where humans now live on planetary bases that are kept separate from the non-human Qitan people. We are given some details about the world, such as the fact that some humans, like Jem, have an implant in their head called Coach that provides her with information and entertainment. Despite these facts though, neither did they give me a good enough glimpse at the world nor did it help elevate it.
I didn't care about any of the characters in the book, mostly because of the way the story was written. As I said in the writing section, the writing felt very detached, like I was meant to not connect with these characters. They didn't really feel like characters to me, more like hollow shells.
Jem is a rather withdrawn character and Isley was more interesting as he was Qitan, but we got him through Jem's perspective which drowned out his character.
Fosse's perspective made me feel both bored and uncomfortable. Bored because all he really cared about was the farmland and his axe, and uncomfortable because he was giving me strange vibes. Just the description of a 16-year-old boy chopping down trees while being naked from the waist down was not something I really needed to imagine.
We also don't get a lot of clarity in terms of character dynamics. Unless I glossed over it accidentally, it is not fully explained why Jem and Fosse don't live together or even what is going on between Jem and Isley.
If you want speculative literature, I would suggest you check out Tor's website as they often come out with monthly lists of speculative fiction short stories. If you are just looking for weird sci-fi stories, Annihilation would probably be the safest bet, along with a whole bunch of manga as they can sure do weird.