Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit | 2018 (20 September) | 390p | Review copy | Buy the book

Rosewater by Tade ThompsonNigeria, 2066, and the new town of Rosewater is a place like none other. The shape of a doughnut, its centre is occupied by an astonishing alien biodome. Its contents are mysterious and unknown but people are drawn to it because, each year when it opens, everyone within the area is healed of all physical and mental disorders. Nobody wants to miss the Opening. Of course, it isn’t perfect. The reanimated dead must be avoided and destroyed at all cost. There is another side effect of the dome’s presence. Some people have become telepaths who can link through to the Xenosphere and there they can read people’s minds, find out things, hunt out secrets. S45, a government agency, was established to use the psychics to stop crime, including those committed by other telepaths. Their best agent is Kaaro. He can find things better than anyone. He is their best interrogator. Now he has a new case and it is the worst kind – someone or something is killing his fellow agents.

Rosewater is an extraordinary piece of science fiction and there is much about it that I really enjoyed and admired. Most of all, I loved the environment of Rosewater, ironically named for its stench. All humanity is drawn to this town, in all of its ugliness, greed and desperation. The setting, in our not too far off future, is really compelling. There are hints about the rest of the world – America has gone silent but nobody knows why – and there are memories of Nigeria’s colonial past overshadowing Rosewater’s perception of itself. Rosewater is vividly evoked, complete with the traffic problem that ensues when a place is shaped like a doughnut, and, at times, when the reanimates walk the streets, it can be a dark and frightening place, locked down by curfews. The premise of the alien biodome and the superhuman powers that is has bestowed on some and the healing it has gifted to others are so intriguing.

The novel combines science fiction with a crime thriller and it is the character of Kaaro who links the two. I didn’t find him a likeable character in the least. He was a thief and now he doesn’t steal objects but people’s secrets and identities. His relationships with women are not healthy but now he is challenged by the new woman in his life who is one of the most enigmatic characters in the book, as is her strange brother. Kaaro is being swept away and he’s not quite sure if he likes it or not. I did have my issues with Kaaro and his rather unpleasant sexuality and sporadic cruelty but, throughout the book we’re given glimpses into Kaaro’s past life, to help explain why he is the man he is and how he is so interconnected with the biodome.

These flashbacks did, I must admit, cause me trouble. They actually carry as much weight, plot-wise and action-wise, as the main thread set in the ‘Now’ and that means that I couldn’t help muddling them up. It doesn’t help that they’re not really in much of an order, we jump around all over the place and adding further confusion are the interludes. There are links between the trails but I’m not sure I spotted them well and I particularly grew confused about the nature of the revolutionary ‘Bicycle Girl’.

This is the first book in a trilogy, I believe, and so you don’t expect all the questions to be answered here but it does have the benefit of potentially leaving you wanting more. However, while most reviewers really love Rosewater, I did struggle to finish it, having been left behind by the challenging structure with its multiple plot-lines, and also by my dislike of Kaaro. But the premise, its Nigerian setting, and the enigmatic dome are very hard to resist.

For other opinions, do take a look at reviews by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm and Blue Book Balloon.

6 thoughts on “Rosewater by Tade Thompson

  1. David

    That’s a good review (thanks for the shoutout!)

    I agree that the timelines were confusing. I think it’s partly the way that the action continues almost seamlessly – at times I didn’t realise for a page or two that we had jumped. I’m glad you mentioned this as I had been worrying it was just me.

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      Thanks, David! It was too much for my brain, unfortunately. I like books that move around but if each timeline is full of cliffhangers then I’m always going to struggle and become lost. It’s too confusing.

  2. chronophlogiston

    I’m really struggling with the shift in timelines and it’s ruining what is an interesting premise and a potentially intriguing plot. Now with 30% of the book to go, I’m just going through the motions and desperate to finish it. I have no idea what’s going on in which year (2055, 2051, 2066) any more!

      1. chronophlogiston

        I wonder if publishers have the courage to tell the author that he has ruined a potentially great book through this choice of style. I read an interview of his where he says that if he had to do it again he would include some sort of timeline tracker so I think he realizes that this approach didn’t really work for the reader.

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