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The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2019, 379 p.

This is the second in the author’s Rosewater trilogy of which I reviewed the first here.

In this instalment something is up with the alien named Wormwood, buried in a part of Nigeria, where the city of Rosewater has grown up around it. The latest clone of the human from whom it derives sustenance, Anthony, has failed to form properly. A woman called Alyssa Sutcliffe has woken up not knowing who she is – nor her husband and daughter – but with other memories intact. She does not know who she is, only that she is not Alyssa. The novel is told through various other viewpoints as well – some first person, others third – including two of the characters from the previous book in the sequence, Aminat, and Kaaro, plus Eric (an agent of S45 Nigeria’s security service) and the mayor of Rosewater, Jack Jacques, who is in dispute with the President of Nigeria and declares independence, relying on the alien’s presence to protect the city. There are also extracts from a novel titled Kudi by Walter Tanmola, who in addition narrates one section which focuses on his experiences after he is enlisted by Jacques to write an “impartial” chronicle of the independence struggle and during which he forms a relationship with a construct, Lora, who acts as Jacques’s advisor/personal assistant. And, too, we remake acquaintance with S45’s most formidable operative, Femi Alaagomeji, but only through other eyes.

Alien cells called xenoforms are infiltrating the bodies of humans, “‘We change the organisms and live in them. In you.’” S45 is involved in a project to try to separate these cells from living humans. The attempts are not going well. Alyssa is of particular interest as she is over 70% xenoform. Some of the novel is taken up with Aminat’s efforts to keep Alyssa away from S45’s attentions, some of it with the conflict between Rosewater and Nigeria, another strand deals with the xenosphere, a dream-like atlternative universe, into which Kaaro can take his consciousness and where he has a gryphon as an avatar. To add to all this an intrusive plant species, which may have been inspired by The Day of the Triffids but isn’t quite so threatening, is taking over Rosewater.

As in the previous book there is a lot going on; perhaps too much. At times it seems Thompson isn’t quite sure what kind of novel he wants this to be. It veers between thriller, fantasy, adventure story and quasi-allegory. The situation is so extreme that the characters don’t get the time to behave as humans (of course, at least two of them are not.) Certainly there is a third instalment to come, but I may leave that for a while.

At the end of the novel this edition has “extras” – a half page of author information and several pages of extract from another book by a different author. I do wish publishers would cease this practice. I do not understand who would read these. I’m certainly not going to start a book which I cannot possibly finish and may well find offputting in any case, so defeating the purpose. It has the effect of merely filling out the page count to make a book look bigger than it actually is.

Pedant’s corner:- “none ever return” (none ever returns.) “She is clothed in some diaphanous material, but it is like a nightgown and covers nothing” (if she’s clothed she is covered, a nightgown is also a covering. I suspect Thompson meant ‘hides nothing’,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) “none of them fit” (none of them fits,) staunches (stanches.) “It lays down” (It lies down,) floatation (flotation – used later,) “good to his word” (good as his word,) phosphorous (phosphorus,) “reaches a crescendo” (no, the crescendo is the increase, not its climax,) lay (lie,) “a skein of geese make their way” (a skein [of geese] makes its way,) ganglions (elsewhere ganglia is used for this plural.)

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2018, 393 p.

 Rosewater cover

Rosewater was a nominee for the BSFA Award last year and won the Clarke Award. Its successor The Rosewater Insurrection is on this year’s BSFA Award short list. As I hope to get round to reading that before voting I thought I’d better look at this first.

Rosewater is a doughnut-shaped city that surrounds the biodome, an alien outcropping in Nigeria. The biodome opens once every year for twenty or thirty minutes and everyone in the vicinity is cured of all physical ailments. Even dead people can be reanimated, but the results tend to be soulless and mindless, and have to be killed again.

Narrator Kaaro is a sensitive, able to discern the thoughts of others by accessing the xenosphere, strands of alien fungi-like filaments and neurotransmitters, which link with the natural fungi on human skin and penetrate the nervous system. His abilities have made him useful to S45, a branch of the Nigerian security services. He is also a finder, and a thief. Later his abilities are referred to as those of a quantum extrapolator. His attitudes are misogynist and sexist, notwithstanding his entering a relationship with a woman called Aminat. Not that strong women are missing in the book, his initial S45 boss, Femi Alaagomeji, and Aminat being cases in point.

The novel is structured into scenes taking place in Kaaro’s Now of 2066, the Then of when the biodome first appeared and its subsequent evolution, and interludes describing his previous missions for S45. This tends to render the reading experience as bitty. Just when getting into the swing of things in one timeline we are jarred out of it, often with a cliffhanger. Coming across in the background we find that the thing humans call Wormwood was an amœbic blob of alien organic matter that fell to Earth in 2012 in Hyde Park, London. Unlike previous such incursions, Wormwood survived and (apparently) tunnelled its way to Nigeria.

Not that it has any real connection to any part of Kaaro’s story, but we are informed that in this world, as a response to the alien incursions, the US has withdrawn into itself, letting nothing in or out, not even information.

At the start of the book Kaaro has a job protecting a bank’s customers from the attentions of other sensitives out to steal their information. This is one of the hares Thompson sets running but never quite catches. There is the biodome itself, the appearance of a character known as Bicycle Girl or Oyin Da, and, in an apparent signal to a thriller subplot that never arrives, sensitives are dying. In the wider xenosphere, where reality is very distorted, Kaaro uses a gryphon as an avatar. Aminat’s brother, Layi, is kept chained in her flat to prevent him burning things using his own xenospheric power.

As can perhaps be gleaned from the previous paragraph there is too much going on in the novel which, as a result, fails to achieve focus. Thompson can undoubtedly write but hasn’t yet found the virtue of economy. Quite why Rosewater has been accorded the accolades it has is therefore a bit obscure.

Pedant’s corner:- “crimes perpetuated in the xenosphere” (crimes perpetrated,) “Ascomytes xenophericus” (elsewhere Ascomytes xenosphericus,) smoothes (smooths,) “amuses me to no end” (‘to no end’ means ‘without purpose’, ‘amuses me no end’ [‘no end’ = infinitely] was meant,) aircrafts “OK it was in dialogue but the plural of aircraft is aircraft.) “None of the people around me are harmed” (None …is harmed.) “None of them want to live in the refugee camps” (None of them wants to live….)

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