Reviews | Written by Fred McNamara 27/11/2020



Aliya Whiteley prioritises a lucid, trance-like style of prose with Skyward Inn, a novel in which the story, characters and world are awash in purposefully vague attitudes. Skyward Inn is set during the aftermath of an interplanetary war. Or is it? The surreal ambiguity of the novel boils down to this undefined act. The novel focuses on Jem and Isley, innkeepers of the Skyward Inn itself, the place where people come to reminisce in safety and share stories of the good times before the war. But since Qita passively allowed the Earth to invade, where exactly are everyone’s fears and anxieties meant to be placed?

Skyward Inn explores the spiralling events that occur when a visitor to the inn, known to Isley, upsets this oddly harmonious world, causing a series of events to unravel. The ambiguity of the book ripples in from the very start and never lets you go. In language, structure and character, Whiteley takes the reader on a cryptic journey of trust, identity and knowing your place in the world. Whiteley’s language focuses on the mood of the scenes, negating any focus on tangible descriptions. After all, Skyward Inn make it clear that anything relating to being ‘tangible’, i.e. definite or certain, is out of the window, that’s the whole point. Whiteley’s cryptic stylings are at their most creatively successful in the relationship between Isley and Jem, one human and one Qitan. A convincing disconnect exists between the pair, reflected by their separation in species. Whiteley injects minute details that swell together to create a relationship that’s cordial on the surface yet rather fractured and delicate on close inspection, as if the pair haven’t entirely welcomed each other yet.

What drags Skyward Inn down is the very language that it uses. It’s practically smothered in the uncertainty of the whole situation Isley and Jem are in, to the point where one has to strain to pay attention, making the novel’s slow-burn heavy-handed. Whiteley attempts to make her story glide effortlessly, but all too often it crawls instead. The novel’s themes radiate well from its core players, but they’re in awkward balance with the drawn-out execution. Ultimately, Skyward Inn is rather too vague for its own good.

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