Book Review: Rosewater

by Tade Thompson, Reviewed by Allen Stroud

Book Review: Rosewater
December 26, 2019 Allen Stroud

Winner of the Clarke Award this year, Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the first in the Wormwood trilogy. It tells the story of an alternative future with a transformed Nigeria playing host to an alien dome, right in the centre of the eponymous new city.

Kaaro is a government agent, working for Section 45. He is a ‘sensitive’ — a human who has become a telepath after being exposed to alien biology and has access to the ‘xenosphere’ (an illusionary shared mental space that seems to work like a shifting virtual reality). Kaaro is our narrator, telling us the story in a patchwork series of current events and flashbacks, all clearly marked with a date and time.

Thompson has said that his writing perspective is all about character and the Clarke Award judges agreed, commenting that Rosewater’s treatment of characters is incredibly engaging. There are small narrative arcs and developments for many of the book’s cast and even its locations. Rosewater itself is clearly a character, and its gradual development from the arrival of the aliens to the resolution of the story is a larger reflection of the development of the individuals who live there.

Kaaro himself is fascinating. Thompson eschews the traditional attributes of a hero, making his protagonist a little sexist and something of a coward. The dialogue between him and his contemporaries is varied and interesting, making the world believable with its mundane qualities and its tense moments. In the majority, Kaaro’s sexism comes across in banter, which generally sees him go unrewarded for his misogyny. However, the female characters around him see something deeper in the way he acts, as opposed to how he talks. There is a generosity of spirit to him that appeals both directly to the reader and indirectly through the supporting cast. Whilst he is afraid, he confronts his fears, rather than running from them. He makes mistakes too, which for the most part, he regrets. At the end of the novel, you cannot help but look back and marvel at the varied and interesting series of events that has brought Kaaro to be in such a pivotal position in Rosewater’s story.

However, Thompson’s character focus does come with a cost. At times, the plot of Rosewater seems to meander and disappear. Events do not build towards anything; Kaaro has tasks that he has been given to do, but they are pushed away at times and some of the chaotic encounters he deals with do not connect to anything else. The continual back and forth of date and time is clearly marked but can mean the reader loses track of what is happening and in what order. Much of the conclusion relies on Kaaro calling in a favour from more than a decade ago, which the reader doesn’t find out about until the chapter after it is mentioned — which feels less like a Chekov’s gun and more a deus ex machina.

Rosewater is an excellent read. The setting and the characterisation mark it out as being an innovative novel. There is clearly much more to the mysteries of Wyrmwood, Section 45, The Bicycle Girl and the alien biodome, which will be explored in Thompson’s subsequent books. 

ISBN-13: 978-0356511368

Pages: 416

Publisher: Orbit

Author: Tade Thompson

Available: Hardback, Paperback, Ebook and Audio

Got something to say about this article? Discuss it on our Facebook page or Twitter