25 September 2023

The Rosewater Insurrection

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Tade Thompson, Hachette, $19.99.

Tade Thompson’s debut novel Rosewater was one of the most original science fiction books of 2018. In that book, Thompson delivered what can only be called a slow alien invasion story. While there was plenty of action in that book, the aliens and their plans remained a little opaque. In The Rosewater Insurrection, these plans come to the fore.

The town of Rosewater, in the heart of Nigeria, has grown from a shanty town to a city sprawled around a strange alien dome known as Wormwood. The first book of this series, Rosewater was the story of Kaaro, one of the few people who have the ability to access the xenosphere, a shared mental space created by alien spores in the atmosphere. Kaaro, a former criminal, worked for a government agency known as S45 but was also investigating the deaths of others who could access this world. The Rosewater Insurrection broadens Thompson’s world out considerably. While Kaaro does get a few point of view chapters, this story is told from a number of points of view most particularly Kaaro’s girlfriend and S45 operative Aminat, mayor Jack Jacques and Alyssa, a woman who is more alien than human.

The Rosewater Insurrection brings a level of chaos to proceedings. This springs from the mayor’s declaration of independence for Rosewater, a move which brings the might of the Nigerian government down on him. At the same time, Wormwood itself is fighting against a threat to its own existence. Thompson deftly navigates an increasingly disintegrating landscape as the Nigerian army closes in, S45 tries to play both sides and Wormwood is left defending itself. As he does so, Thompson constantly ups the pressure on all of the characters.

If Rosewater firmly announced the arrival of a new science fiction talent, its sequel confirms that claim. Thompson answers many of the big questions left from the first book – who are the aliens? What is it they want and why? What does this mean for humanity? – while asking more questions about how this situation will play out. The African setting is again used effectively, marking this as another strong entry in a growing body of Africa-based speculative fiction.

Thompson established a tentative status quo in the first book of this series which he completely throws over in the second. He leaves his world at a tipping point, poised for more revelations and reveals in the final volume of the series The Rosewater Redemption, which cannot come soon enough.

This and 300 more reviews can be found at Pile By the Bed.

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