Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumoured healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again – but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realisation about a horrifying future.

I’ve never read anything quite like Rosewater.

This is a unique book in many different ways. It’s an almost-fantastical science fiction set in a future Nigeria that features telepaths, reanimated corpses, aliens, and secret government agencies. The story has a non-linear structure, meaning that there is a central storyline set in the present (the year 2066) with snippets from the past sprinkled throughout to provide context.

Our main character is Kaaro, a sensitive that works for a government agency. Sensitives are able to enter the “xenosphere”, which is a mysterious alternate space where sensitives can meet each other, manipulate their appearance, and interact with our own reality in the form of reading other peoples’ thoughts (among other things).

Kaaro is an interesting, flawed character. He isn’t exactly the nicest person in the world, and he has used his gifts in the past for personal gain—despite knowing that it was to the detriment of others. He is reserved, perhaps a little bit judgmental, and has a remarkable ability to take almost anything in his stride. I didn’t exactly like him, but I was intrigued by him. Tade Thompson does an excellent job of making Kaaro’s past—and the world itself—seem fascinating.

Rosewater is a masterclass in worldbuilding. It can be tremendously difficult for authors to communicate the specifics of a high-concept world in an interesting way, and so quite a few authors will resort to long, often-tedious paragraphs of exposition. Thompson neatly sidesteps this issue by raising questions for the readers to ask… and then denying them the answers unless they read on. The desired information is then drip-fed through various flashback chapters which explore Kaaro’s enigmatic past, and complement the story unfolding in the present.

This is a novel which drives you forward with questions. Why are the sensitives dying off? What is the biodome? What is inside the biodome? What did Kaaro see inside the biodome, and why does it matter now?

This is a very well constructed story, with plot, character, and setting interlinked in the most delightful way. It’s not hard to see why this novel won the first ever Nommo Best Novel award.

Rosewater is a brilliant read. It offers an honest and slightly cynical view of how our world would be should things take a turn to the fantastical. I’ve never read a sci-fi book like this, and I doubt I will again.

Well… at least not until the sequel.

Thank you to Orbit, who provided a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Rosewater releases on paperback on September 20th, and is available to purchase on Kindle now.


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