This Week’s Word Is “Wormwood.”
Sometimes you just need to get on and read whatever everybody is saying you should read. I’ve had Rosewater by Tade Thompson sitting on my to-be-read pile for months, but such is the nature of to-be-read piles they tend to grow rather than diminish and so I never quite got to it. I often have a fear with seminal, much talked about science fiction, that I won’t quite get it. It can be a little too “out there” for me. I think I was worried Rosewater might be the same; that the idea of reading Rosewater might be better than the reality of reading Rosewater.
I was wrong. It’s as good as everyone says.
What is Rosewater by Tade Thompson?
Rosewater is the first book in the Wormwood trilogy. It’s set mainly in 2066, but it cuts back to 2055 and times in between. The novel is set in the fictional township of Rosewater, which has sprung up around an alien manifestation in Nigeria. Little is understood about the alien(s) except that periodically the biodome opens, and the people of Rosewater are healed of whatever ails them. This healing is so efficient it even brings back the dead, albeit as zombie-like “reanimates.” The dead of Rosewater are buried well out of the city limits.
For a wider context, planet Earth is much different to how we might recognize it. London and Hyde Park were destroyed by a similar (the same) alien landing there. The US has gone dark; almost nobody comes out and nobody goes in.
So, we have a peculiar township set up in the middle of Nigeria that functions almost entirely to service the dome and the people who flock to it for its miraculous healing. In the middle of this sits Kaaro who, we learn early on, has been involved with the dome since it very first arrived, before Rosewater ever sprang up. Kaaro is a “sensitive.” He has an ability that enables him to read people’s minds. He can even manipulate their thought patterns, should he desire. This makes Kaaro and people like him extraordinarily valuable for both law enforcement offices and crime syndicates. Kaaro is an operative for the ASF; the secret service that operates around Rosewater.
Kaaro is unreliable in just about everything he does, including, we suspect, narrating his story. He had a criminal past before being enlisted in the ASF, he also had an early brush with the alien lifeform at the center of Rosewater. Everything revolves around Kaaro, but why?
Why Read Rosewater by Tade Thompson?
Everything I heard about this book is true. It is a startling an original piece of fiction. The setting marks the book out as something different from the outset. The town of Rosewater with the huge biodome at the center is an interesting construct in an area of the world often overlooked in science fiction. The dome, its function, and its effects on Kaaro are multi-faceted. There are many layers of ambiguity with power struggles going on in multiple directions. Some of which sit in the background waiting to reveal themselves late in the novel.
The time structure of the novel can get confusing. I occasionally lost track of which point in time I was reading about because the sections in the past jump about in time. Whilst the 2666 narrative is linear, the past timeline is not. But despite being a little confusing for an old-timer, the novel’s structure serves as an excellent way to reveal information piecemeal, keeping the reader on their toes. The structure of the Rosewater is a well-crafted example of how to show and not tell.
Characterization is strong and the novel’s alien culture is innovative and more than a little mind-bending. Rosewater’s alien invasion is subtle, inventive, and free of bombast. Rosewater does what the best sci-fi does; confounds the reader’s expectations and examines old tropes from an entirely different perspective. Aliens coming to Earth is nothing new but with Rosewater, Tade Tompson makes it feel like it’s never been done before.
One of the best things about being slow to get to books in the to-be-read pile is that often by the time you’ve done so, the sequels have arrived. There are few things worse than getting to the end of good book, knowing you have an indefinite time to wait before the next installment comes along. Rosewater Redemption and Rosewater Insurrection are already available and I can’t wait to read them. The problem with this, of course, is that reading one book and buying two new ones only adds to the ever-increasing bookberg that sits in my bedroom (only 1 third of it pokes above the bed).
I will have to wait a little while though. I have recently started working with a new PR rep and they’ve set me some exciting great-looking books to read. Unfortunately, they are all the size of house bricks; more on those in future Word Wednesday posts. In the meantime, do check out Tade Thompson and Rosewater. It’s a great book, chock full of fresh ideas and thoroughly recommended.
If you enjoyed this review, you can check out my other Word Wednesday posts, here.