Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
I feel like I need to lead with this book is NOT for everyone. It’s bizarre, kind of grotesque, and pretty gritty. It was sort of like a Sci-Fi American Gods, actually. However, I don’t typically enjoy gritty books and I really had a great time reading Rosewater!
I’ve never read a book quite like this one. It’s got a pretty unusual premise. In the near future we have made first contact after an alien crash landed in Britain, and the alien has moved down to Nigeria where it has erected some sort of dome. A city, Roswater, grew around this dome, and once a year it opens and heals everyone. Also, psychics are real and are becoming more common. The narrator, Kaaro, is a psychic (he calls them sensitives) and works for a government agency using his pyschic powers. So that’s cool!
What was really unusual about this book, though, was the way it was presented. Kaaro is presenting you with two timelines simultaneously, the “present”, and the past leading up to his joining up with the government agency. At first the two stories seemed unrelated, and when combined with occasional interludes at even other timelines, I often got confused as to when I was reading. However, as the story goes on you start to see the connections between the two stories, how they come together, and eventually in the last hundred pages or so figuring out what the book is really about.
It’s pretty cool, actually, because for most of the book the plot didn’t seem to be taking any clear direction, and it was really refreshing to just read a book about a dude. But then when everything does come together it’s suddenly about SO MUCH MORE. My mind was completely blown, although in retrospect nothing was particularly shocking.
The main thing I didn’t like about Rosewater was that Kaaro had a bit of an obsession with sex, and often the sex was really weird. It’s never described in explicit detail, but it’s still there on the page. Like, ALL THE TIME. This is something I’ve noticed with other science fiction authors in the past, their characters often fixate on sex. And at times Kaaro kind of plays it off like, “Oh, I was young”, but it continues through the entire narrative and was really off-putting to me.
I’m a sucker for aliens, and this was done in a way that really resonated with me. The world building was outstanding, and completely believable. The detail of America, specifically, was tantalizing, because they mention several times during the book that America has “gone dark,” but they never say why. When it finally comes out it was pretty exciting, but I wanted more.
I loved how it was kind of a slow burn, with the payoff waiting until right the very last second. This novel definitely takes its time all-around, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so drawn in by the oddness and the originality.
I had so much fun reading Rosewater, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trilogy brings.