Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Publisher – Orbit
Published – Out Now
Price – £8.99
I am very grateful for the publisher providing me with an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Nigeria, 2066 The hopeful and the helpless congregate around an alien biodome, seeking salvation.
Rosewater is a town on the edge.
Science fiction and mysteries do tend to go together. From the simple stories of Asimov’s robots to the urban fantasy genre’s many detectives many novels explore how either science or magic can further complicate a mystery beyond the rational world (plus it’s more fun to think of the impossible Mr Holmes). In this fantastic novel Tade Thompson provides the reader with an intriguing thriller set in the future, merging telepathy with alien first contact in a web of multiple plotlines that you will completely want to unravel and discover the real cause of all these events lying in the heart of Rosewater.
In 2066 Rosewater is one of the most advanced cities in Nigeria a centre of scientific discovery where an alien presence has for the last ten years been slowly observed by the government and a magnet for so many people wanting to change their lives. This is the alien’s third arrival on Earth and this time takes the form of a biodome that annually opens a portal releasing a mysterious energy that can heal the sick or even make the dead return mindless and violent. The world is on the brink of China and Russia battling for power as the US many years ago mysteriously vanished after the first sign of alien life was discovered in 2012.
Most surprisingly telepaths have moved from myth to a valued resource that governments are seeking to use for their own ends from bank security to espionage. The world is on the edge of a change, but no one seems clear on exactly what nor if the change is welcome. In Rosewater one of the most powerful telepaths is Kaaro who for all his life has had several interactions at key moments in the city’s short history ever since its creation. His latest mission doesn’t go to plan but reveals that telepaths are under threat and mysterious presences in the telepath mindscape seem to want Kaaro for their own purposes.
This novel is an amazing puzzle box where all these mysteries are outlined and through Kaaro’s narration we see two sides of the city. In 2066 Kaaro is a reserved cynical but ultra-confident agent but in his youth, he was an arrogant thief using his powers for his own gain – because of his talents the government soon realises he could be the clue to finding a mysterious woman who disappear in thin air Kaaro’s mission however made him end up staying for the rest of his life. Rosewater offers him immense opportunities but also unfinished business. Through the narration of his younger and older selves we slowly piece together what exactly is Kaaro’s role in what is turning to be a deadly game for so many people he has been involved with. There is clever mechanism in rotating chapters seeding the plots of both past and future until there is a final conclusion explaining how these two parts of his life are tied together at last.
I think Tade Thompson has achieved that perfect balance of inventive ideas, character and plot. The old SF trope of telepathy is given a refreshingly new rational cause which really suits it’s 21st century setting when you find the cause; the exploration of what a telepath is capable of and what uses they would serve is both smart and terrifyingly plausible and this is really achieved through the way we see Kaaro. Because of the time jumps we get the young know it all who is living on his wits and then through the experiences we are about to discover we get an older more guarded and hurt Kaaro who while keen to judge the guy he used to be is still recognisably the core of the same man - prone to take the harder path and not going to obey the rules if he thinks its not in his interests. He’s engaging but flawed and its good to see the book recognises Kaaro’s sense of masculinity leads to mistakes that will haunt him. In fact, the initial factor that sets him on a better path is the revelation that there is a larger telepath population out there who provide him shelter and in one very touching scene a warning that his is very close to making the same mistakes another telepath made which really does change his life. SF thrillers can tend towards the clinical, but this book offers surprising moments of tenderness and introspection that invests you in Kaaro’s story and potential for redemption.
Rosewater is one of the most intriguing science fiction novels I’ve read this year; it’s a classic noir plot set in a future world but its beautifully thought out in terms of worldbuilding as we see how this alternate 21st century grew into existence and where it’s going – all of which sounds plausible to our eyes. It is also refreshing to see a SF world that doesn’t resemble New York and a reminder that aliens are perhaps unlikely to miss one the largest continents on the planet in favour of the centre of Hollywood. Overall if you enjoy getting under the skin of a great thriller and see how the future can offer both horrors and wonders. This is definitely a book you should be looking to snap up as one of the best reads of the year. I very much look forward to seeing what other tales Thompson has to tell.