There are so many original elements to this novel it’s hard to know where to start. The sci-fi trope it starts with is the ‘friendly invasion’. Earth discovers intelligent life on Qita, and its inhabitants in turn surrender completely to the human invasion of their world. However, Whiteley sets the vast majority of her novel in Devon and the title invites comparison to the Du Maurier West Country classic. After a tour of duty to Qita Jem, owner of the Skyward Inn, runs her establishment with her son Fosse, and Qitan Islay who provides the pub with its ‘brew’ – a Qitan drink with seriously hallucinogenic properties. Their part of the West country is in the Protectorate – a society that eschews high technology and contact with the rest of humanity. Outsiders – a second Qitan, and a family seeking to move into a vacant property, set in motion a chain of events that shakes the Protectorate and forces Fosse to flee.
Whiteley takes her time to create the Protectorate society and her principal characters, and the first half of the novel proceeds at a leisurely pace. Jem in particular is an exceptionally well-drawn character, both rooted in her community as the publican, and an outsider due to her connection to Qita. Her son Fosse, chafing at the restricted life of the Protectorate, is a more conventional but still completely credible young man seeking answers and a purpose.
This might be enough for an enjoyable enough read, but Whiteley has a socking last act to unveil. Once Fosse makes his way to Qita its true nature, and whose ‘friendly invasion’ has in fact succeeded is revisited. Fascinated to hear what @kid-dynamite made of this singular work.
review copy provided by Netgalley.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Jeff Vandermeer and Ursula K Le Guin have been mentioned in other reviews and in her lyricism, focus on character, social and ecological themes rather than technology. This is true, and indicative of the quality of writing in this book. There’s another unlikely but clear influence at the end of this work: a body horror schlock movie made in the eighties. I won’t say which one, as that would give away the twist, but let’s just say that Whiteley’s characters come to realise the power of shunting.
One thing you’ve learned
Never read Jamaica Inn. Might need to change that.