Rosewater: Weird, gritty, gorgeous alien invasion story

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Rosewater by Tade Thompson speculative fiction book reviewsRosewater by Tade Thompson

In the Nigerian town of Rosewater, Kaaro, the main character of Tade Thompson’s Rosewater (2016), works for Section 45, a sinister government agency. Rosewater is built next to an alien dome, Utopicity, and the arrival of the aliens ten years earlier seems to have unleashed a host of unusual occurrences and abilities within the human population of Rosewater. Kaaro is one of these people — for his job at Section 45, he prevents crime, can read the minds of prisoners, and finds people by entering the ‘xenosphere,’ an ability which makes him a ‘sensitive.’ Unfortunately, sensitives like Kaaro are dying and he may be next. The answer to this problem might lie with Molara, a woman who appears to Kaaro in the xenosphere under the guise of a butterfly, and who keeps contacting him. But as he discovers more about Molara and tries to find a woman named Bicycle Girl, other questions arise, bringing Kaaro back to Utopicity and the alien Wormwood again and again.

The worldbuilding of Rosewater is fascinating, intricate, and astonishingly inventive. Kaaro is not the only human with unusual abilities (his girlfriend’s brother can spontaneously combust, apparently) but there are lots of other creatures and even otherworldly realms as well. Utopicity, the alien dome, is so named because it is a place where people can, at certain times, be healed of diseases and other problems. The entire world Thompson has created is so uniquely, enjoyably, and sometimes frighteningly strange that this was, for me, one of the great pleasures of reading this book.

But what took my breath away in Rosewater was Thompson’s non-linear storytelling, the craft of managing different timelines and deciding when to reveal certain information. Kaaro himself has a past and his own secrets, and Thompson reveals this to us by taking us from the novel’s present — 2066 — to Kaaro’s childhood in the 2030’s, and the arrival of Wormwood in Nigeria in 2055. This book kept me guessing, wondering how the mysteries were connected to each other, wondering how the past related to the present, but the information was given out at just the right moment to keep my suspense up without frustrating me too much as a reader.

If you are in the mood for an alien invasion/first contact story, a weird world, tense mysteries, and beautiful writing, Rosewater might be just the book for you.

Published November 14, 2016. Between meeting a boy who bursts into flames, alien floaters that want to devour him, and a butterfly woman who he has sex with when he enters the xenosphere, Kaaro’s life is far from the simple one he wants. But he left simple behind a long time ago when he was caught stealing and nearly killed by an angry mob. Now he works for a government agency called Section 45, and they want him to find a women known as Bicycle Girl. And that’s just the beginning. An alien entity lives beneath the ground, forming a biodome around which the city of Rosewater thrives. The cities of Rosewater are enamored by the dome, hoping for a chance to meet the beings within or possibly be invited to come in themselves. But Kaaro isn’t so enamored. He was in the biodome at one point and decided to leave it behind. When something begins killing off other sensitives like himself, Kaaro defies Section 45 to search for an answer, facing his past and comes to a realization about a horrifying future.

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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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5 comments

  1. Sounds like it would go well with LAGOON! Thanks, Kate. This goes one the must-read list!

  2. Stuart /

    This sounds like such an unusual and intriguing story! I’ll have to take a space elevator to add this to my TBR list now in the stratosphere.

  3. Kate, have you read Thompson’s Making Wolf, and if so, how do you think it compares to Rosewater?

  4. Definitely one of my favourite read in the past few months. It was well written, with an excellent world building and a character that was completely believable.

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