Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Rosewater is probably one of the best alien invasion stories I’ve read in my entire life, mainly because I didn’t realize that’s what it was until I was about halfway through the book, and that’s part of the glory of it. In some places, it’s a tough read emotionally, but the turmoil is absolutely worth the wonder, the world development, and the spine-tingles.
The narrative switches between the past and the present, depending on the chapter, but it all revolves around Kaaro, who doesn’t give us a last name. We quickly discover Kaaro has psychic powers, and that in this particular society that’s grown up in Nigeria in 2066, this is considered normal enough that he works in a bank, providing thought-static to protect people’s pin numbers from other psychics.
As the narrative unwinds, we learn some other things very quickly; Rosewater is a city that has sprung up around a strange anomaly. It’s a force field that opens up once a year, healing any injured or sick people nearby with various results. There’s also the ganglia, two massive alien structures that provide the city with an endless stream of electrical energy.
In the book, we follow Kaaro through his past and present, slowly unraveling his secrets, and the secrets of the city at the same time.
What was good?
The world building is fantastic. If you haven’t gotten to enjoy Afrofuturism before, this is a fun book to start with. Thompson does a great job of creating a rich picture of an alien, high tech future without making the reader feel like they’re watching the paint dry.
Another aspect I really appreciated was how the story progresses. Not just the pacing, which kept me riveted almost the whole time, but just how Thompson slowly reveals choice pieces of information, while keeping other aspects of the situation shrouded in mystery. It’ll keep the pages turning.
What was less good?
Old (read, present) Kaaro is not horrible most of the time, but I seriously can’t think of a POV character I’ve liked less than young Kaaro. I’m not of the opinion that all characters have to be likable, and it speaks to Kaaro’s development over the course of the book that I tolerate him much better in 2066 than I do in 2042, but dear God, he is awful.
Young Kaaro is stupid and lazy, he’s incredibly selfish and he’s intensely sexist. Like, I rolled my eyes so hard I almost hurt myself sexist. Thankfully, every young Kaaro chapter moves the story along beautifully, so it’s worth getting through them, but just… it was a bit of a chore for me.
As much as I hated Kaaro’s younger self, the book is this really rich, interesting, subtly frightening story that takes place in a fresh setting. The mystery of Rosewater, what it is, how it came to be, and what’s really happening is just so enticing, while that wonderful thrill of horror that’s running throughout is so subtle.
This is also one of those first books in series that does a great job of standing alone, it will also leave you wanting to read the sequel, if only to find out more about what’s going on in the world. I haven’t yet, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
What’s it like?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s like if you mixed Jeff Vandermeer’s Area X series with N.K. Jemisen’s The City We Became, but it’s kind of hard to make a mashup because this is such a unique book.
Betchdel test: FAIL