The Arrival of Missives novel by Aliya Whiteley
published by Unsung Stories, 9 May 2016
Review by Joel Schanke
Destiny. Free will. These are concepts that can only be perceived by a human mind, yet we have trouble fully comprehending the significance of our destinies, and the importance of our choices. The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley, explores these issues with a firm grasp on our species’ misunderstanding of the two concepts, and how one simple choice can change the course of your destiny forever.
In The Arrival of Missives, a young girl, Shirley, is overcome with an overpowering affection for her school-teacher in a post-war English countryside. Her affection leads her down a mysterious and abnormal journey to help the wounded Mr. Tiller fight for the future of the Earth. The Earth is, as Mr. Tiller eventually explains to Shirley, only secure from looming destruction if she follows his instructions (or the instructions given to him from an extraterrestrial rock ingrained into his stomach during the war). She is expected to marry another boy from the town, Daniel. The reasoning behind this order is that if Shirley doesn’t accept Daniel’s advances, then he will marry another girl in town—and their children will bring about the end of the Earth.
Throughout the book, Shirley’s choices are muddled with blind obedience to the man she trusts over anything else, her teacher. This is a theme that Whiteley wanted to get across to her readers as well: teachers have influence over their student’s future, and sometimes they take advantage of the minds that they’re responsible for molding. For Shirley, her free will is dependent on what Mr. Tiller determines for her, which begs the question: has her destiny already been secured? Or, can she break free of the grasp of her teacher and learn to make her own choices, like she has always thought of doing? It’s ironic, however, that she breaks free of her parents’ plan for her only to be used as a pawn in somebody else’s plot.
The message runs deep throughout the novel, and almost every character has their part to play within the intricately woven science fiction-fantasy novel. The characters are consistently changing, showing that certain circumstances alter their perspective. Whiteley demonstrates to her readers that her characters have their own unique personalities, but these personalities are tested—and sometimes broken in the most unexpected of ways. This, to me, is exemplary of an exceptional writing style. Not just because her characters evolve as they should in any novel, but because they are so perfectly invested into a situation which they do not fully understand. Mr. Tiller follows the rock’s instructions, as Shirley follows his, yet they (and we the readers) never understand where these rocks come from, and why Mr. Tiller should be obeying their demands as blindly as Shirley follows his. It would appear that nothing is truly set in stone.
The Arrival of Missives is not just a novel about fate, free will, and the influence of teachers; it’s also a novel of romantic choices. I had reservations about Whiteley including romance in a novel that, at first, appeared to be forcing the subject upon me. I was pleased when I discovered that this overused concept was a necessary aspect of the novel in order to expand on relationships between Mr. Tiller, Daniel, and Shirley; advance the plot; and further the themes that I found myself so engaged in analyzing. For without romance, Shirley would most likely be a normal school-girl struggling to break free from her destiny.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who holds a place in their hearts for thought provoking science fiction-fantasy. For exceptional writing, strong characters, important messages, and an interesting mixture of science fiction and fantasy, I give The Arrival of Missives four stars out of five.