I received an uncorrected bound proof copy of Rosewater in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Tade Thompson and Orbit books for the opportunity.
Set in Nigeria 2066, we follow Kaaro in the first person perspective. He is a complex yet interesting protagonist who is a psychic. He has two jobs. One is where he stops bank fraud and the other is more James Bond-esque, working for the government department of S45, which he doesn’t really enjoy. Kaaro can read minds, replay past events and understand individuals’ whole life experiences within a matter of seconds. He can also manipulate people and occasionally make certain people believe they are burning alive. Additionally, he can frequent a place known as the Xenosphere under his avatar as a Gryphon where he can fly. I will not try to explain this extrasensory-like environment to any great degree but it can be quickly summarised as being a dream-esque space between certain peoples thoughts.
If Rosewater doesn’t sound complex enough so far, throughout the narrative we follow three different timelines. The main timeline is Nigeria 2066 which is set in the city of Rosewater which was erected around an alien biodome where once a year an ‘opening’ occurs where civilians ailments and illnesses can be cured by this extraterrestrial presence. Kaaro uses his mind wizardry for the government and also for a bank. It’s mundane and boring for him generally but he has recently met a girlfriend called Aminat who has a very beautiful and mysterious housebound brother. The earliest timeline is about a youthful Kaaro where he is living life dangerously in Largos as a thief, getting disowned by his parents and learning gradually about his sight and abilities. The middle timeline is when our protagonist reluctantly works for the secret service and as an expert ‘finder’ is requested to find the mysterious bicycle girl and perhaps dig up more details about the alien entity that ends up residing in Rosewood. They are quite short chapters throughout, averaging approximately 10 pages however with the constant switch between timelines I did have to take notes to be aware of what had happened previously and pay attention to the dates at the beginning of the chapters.
I have been loving my fantasy and science fiction books recently that have been based on or inspired by certain places I am less familiar with that don’t feature typical standard tropes such as The Poppy War (China), Jade City (Japan), and Empire of Sand (India). This fits nicely in the same vein for being exciting, elegant, complex, deep and original. It ticks a lot of boxes that I look for in a fiction age which is overflowing with carbon copies of what has come previously.
This is a very smart book. The time, expertise and efforts that Thompson has put into this opener of The Wormword Trilogy organically ooze from that page. One of my favourite aspects was how Thompson discusses the history we are familiar with that is up to date, (I think I noticed a Donald Trump diss in here somewhere !) and also imagined events that have taken place between 2018 and 2066. One example is that the USA is no longer on the world’s radar. They have isolated themselves and the rest of the planet know nothing about what our Western cousins are up to.
There are some very dark scenes featured. Murders, people being burned alive, and a few brutal execution techniques included. Adult science fiction and even grimdark fans will find a lot to like here. It did take me a while to get in to initially and then adapt to the presented world. The world building is very good and it mainly takes places in Lagos and the fictional Rosewater. Kaaro is a damaged individual with unbelievable powers and although he’s had a colourful existence there is still some heart and something worth following in our first-person protagonist. I for one look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. I’ll be intrigued to see if Thompson adds any other point of view perspectives in his following books. It might be an interesting take but I’d personally like to carry on following Kaaro. Now the backstory is complete I’d like a single timeline going forwards though. That is my only slight negative that it sometimes threw me away from the action and narrative in Rosewater. Thompson is obviously a brilliant and very smart author and this is the best science fiction book I’ve read in a few years. Bravo, sir.