The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

I would like to thank Nazia from Orbit for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Orbit

Price - £8.99

Published – Out Now

The year is 2067. The city of Rosewater is chaotic, vibrant and full of life – some of it extra-terrestrial.

The charismatic mayor, Jack Jacques, has declared Rosewater a free state, independent from Nigeria. But the city’s alien dome is dying. Government forces await its destruction, ready to crush Rosewater’s independence before it has even begun.

The sequel to a great story always leaves a level of anticipation is this going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Mummy 2?  Ideally, I want the world I saw last time but more…yet different… yet the same…audiences are fickle.  Last year I rated Tade Thompson’s Rosewater as one of the best SF novels (plus it’s a Subjective Chaos finalist….oh yeah and  it won the Clarke Award!) and I’m pleased to report I think it’s an even better book than the last delivering scale, action, a wealth of interesting characters and makes me want the last part soooooon.

Rosewater is a city in Nigeria formed after an alien presence landed in the area releasing strange creatures and a powerful effect that can heal the sick and appears to reanimate the dead. In the first instalment it was revealed that these aliens who also could mentally walk into a strange mindscape known as the xenosphere, were subtly planning to replace humanity cell by cell. This time we don’t focus too much on Kaaro the telepath operative who the first book centred on and instead we have a weaving tale of multiple characters.  In 2055 we meet Eric one of Kaaro’s early fellow agents on a failed mission to assassinate the rabble-rousing Jack Jacques. Then in 2067 a white English woman named Alyssa awakens and has no memory of who she is or how she has got a husband and child staring at her in puzzlement. This attracts the attention of S45 the agency investigating the laine threats and Kaaro’s lover Aminat herself a very capable agent is sent to retrieve Alyssa as part of their next attempt to stop the invasion.  Then things really go wrong fast and Rosewater finds itself under attack from aliens and the government of Nigeria as it finally declares its own independence.

One feeling I really came away with after reading this instalment was the epic scale of the story. The first instalment was very much Kaaro’s life as well as how Rosewater came into being instead here, we get a multi-character led narrative weaving various people’s lives as the situation unravels. If we saw part one as more a thriller this feels almost like a historical epic as we see from all these vantage points even the aliens how they’re approaching the situation. We get tales from an unhappy man trapped in the town who becomes a huge threat to all and the political machinations that drive Jack Jacques. There are lots of revelations such as where these aliens came from; the approach to African democracy and even how technology has evolved in the city.  Thompson gets to personalise the narrative for each chapter and while Kaaro is the reluctant agent threads with Jack Jacques and his super-efficient aide Lora feel more like a political thriller. Sides play tactics against each other from propaganda to terrorism. If not exactly a war novel, it’s certainly got the feel of the build-up to one and this time the stakes are the elimination of Rosewater or the entire world if people fail/succeed in their missions.

There are moments of bleakness at how the human race still manages to be focused on personal gains even with these stakes, but we also see that the aliens are not as united a force as you would have expected. There are dizzying trips into the Dome and even vantage points from their perspectives - there is a lot of body horror as we see the aliens treat flesh as just a tool for exploring the world with and adapting as required to suit any environment or situation.  There are moments of tenderness, tragedy love and comedy throughout and it’s that emotional depth I found really sucked me in to caring about people’s fates as we get to know them and their motivations.

While managing to wrap up the story for this instalment it clearly sets up the likely elements of confrontation for the final volume The Rosewater Redemption which is out this autumn. It’s not entirely clear which side we want to win in the end and that builds up my anticipation as to what is turning out to be one of the best SF series out there. Fresh, exciting and ambitious this book delivers on all levels and proves Thompson is rightfully being lauded as one of the best writers in SF.