More Aliens, More Politics, More Fun: Tade Thompson – The Rosewater Insurrection

One of the joys of literary awards is that they can lead you to new and interesting books. Books you would otherwise have overlooked, books you weren’t aware of, books you thought were about something completely different. Thanks to the 2020 Best Series Hugo Award, I finally picked up Rosewater by Tade Thompson and was so mesmerized that I had to continue the trilogy in what, for me, is actually a pretty prompt manner.

rosewater insurrectionTHE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION
by Tade Thompson

Published: Orbit, 2019
eBook: 400 pages
audiobook: 13 hours 13 minutes
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #2
My rating: 7.5/10

Opening line: I am not an assassin. I’d like that to be clear, yet I am cleaning my gun as I start this telling, having already stripped and cleaned my rifle, with the intention of killing a man. Orders.

 

All is quiet in the city of Rosewater as it expands on the back of the gargantuan alien Wormwood. Those who know the truth of the invasion keep the secret.

The government agent Aminat, the lover of the retired sensitive Kaaro, is at the forefront of the cold, silent conflict. She must capture a woman who is the key to the survival of the human race. But Aminat is stymied by the machinations of the Mayor of Rosewater and the emergence of an old enemy of Wormwood…


Where Rosewater was told solely from the point of view of Kaaro, a sensitive and an agent for the secret government branch S45, this second book only spares a few chapters for him. Instead, we get alternating chapters from the POV of Aminat whom we’ve met in the first book and who works for S45 under Femi Alaagomeji, the mayor of Rosewater, Jack Jacques, Antony, and some more new characters. So this is a clear departure from the storytelling style of the first book but if anything, it made this volume easier to breeze through, much easier to follow (no multiple time lines), and it helped show new aspects of Rosewater and its particular style of alien invasion.

As we learned in the first book, aliens have already successfully invaded Earth using fungi which live inside humans with very little effect on us. Except some, like Kaaro, have been turned into so-called sensitives and can enter the xenosphere. Every human is a certain percentace fungus at this point, and Femi, Aminat’s S45 boss, is trying to find a way to reverse this. Aminat’s job is to find people with a particularly low percentage of fungus, when she stumbles across a woman who appears to be more alien than human, something unheard of. This woman, Alyssa, is actually experiencing severe amnesia. She doesn’t know who she is, only that she’s not the wife and mother her husband and child seem to think she is…

Meanwhile, Jack Jacques, the mayor of Rosewater, declares the city’s independence which leads to a whole shit show of conflict, both within Rosewater and in Nigeria. The president gest involved, there’s unrest in the streets, and something is happening in the alien biodome. So you could say, things get a little out of hand.

I loved Rosewater for its fresh ideas and its complicated and not super likable protagonist, but I have to say, I appreciated the multiple POVs here a lot. Not only did it give me characters to like as well as dislike, but it also offered different perspectives for the same event. When things go down in Rosewater andthe mayor is secure, watching things from a safe distance, Aminat is right in the middle of the action. It was a lot of fun reading about the same events unfolding from different points of view.
It also helps establishing the female characters as more than how Kaaro sees them. If you felt that the first book was a bit misogynistic in tone, I can’t really disagree, but I interpreted is as Kaaro being Kaaro. And Kaaro is a little fixated on women’s looks, especially boobs. Since Kaaro only gets a few chapters in The Rosewater Insurrection, women aren’t described in quite so much male gaze-y detail here, although Thompson still makes a point of letting us know how gorgeous Femi is and how everyone either wants her or wants to look like her. However, these mentions weren’t nearly as frequent as in the first book and women are the ones carrying this story forward for the most part, so I was okay with it.

As for the world building and the science ficitonal ideas – they were still great, but for a while I thought the trilogy had run out of steam. The xenosphere had already been introduced in Rosewater, a cool twist about the alien Wormwood had been revealed, and it didn’t feel like Thompson could come up with something intriguing enough to keep the world building fresh in this middle volume. Well, it may not be a completely new idea but I did love where he took this story. The type of alien and its plans in particular are a refreshing change to what we usually see in TV or the movies. Without giving things away, I can’t really tell you more details, but there’s new conflict and the alien situation becomes way more difficult than it was already.

Another thing I appreciate is how Thompson not only throws cool ideas into his story for the sake of having them there, but he incorporates them so that they each are improtant for the story he wants to tell. The xenosphere, for example, isn’t just there. It plays a vital part in the plot of this trilogy, as do the fungus, the reanimates, S45, and of course Wormwood’s own agenda. It all comes together really nicely and, in the case of Insurrecion, also quite violently, which gives us an exciting ending, filled with action. The ending, like in some of the best books, is also filled with hope. After I finished this book, I was pretty sure that the protagonists I was rooting for were doing the right thing, but if I’m completely honest, I can’t really know. In the third books, it could turn out that humanity has made a huge mistake. I just don’t know yet. Endings I can’t predict are my very favorites, so I’m super excited to read The Rosewater Redemption and see how things end for Aminat, Kaaro, and humanity in general. Seriously, it could go either way.

Aliens, Spies, and Secrets: Tade Thompson – Rosewater

I’m so glad I picked this up. I’ve been hearing about this trilogy ever since the first book came out but reviews were all over the place. Some people loved it, some hated it, some said it was too difficult to understand – that’s exactly the right mix to get me super interested and want to form an opinion of my own. It was difficult to read and it’s definitely only the start of a longer story but, boy, did I love it!

ROSEWATER
by Tade Thompson

Published: Apex Book Company, 2016
Audiobook: 13 hours 30 minutes
Paperback: 432 pages
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #1
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: I’m at the Integrity Bank job for forty minutes before the anxieties kick in.

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater is the start of an award-winning, cutting edge trilogy set in Nigeria, by one of science fiction’s most engaging new voices.
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored 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 realization about a horrifying future.

This is a crazy book with many ideas, several timelines, different planes of existence, and an interesting cast of characters. We follow Kaaro, a former thief turned government agent, who is also infected with xenoforms that let him enter the xenosphere – a sort of parallel world of thoughts. He can read people’s thoughts and feelings which is pretty useful for his secret work for the government agency Section 45. His day job is working at a bank, trying to deter other sensitives (others like him) from reading people’s passcodes or bank data from their minds. He does this by crowding the xenosphere with unimportant thoughts, usually reading a classic novel.

Whew! That’s just the basic introduction and you can see there’s already so much packed in there. So I have to agree with the people that say this isn’t an easy book to read. The writing style is great, the prose flows smoothly, but keeping everything straight in your head, keeping up with what happened to Kaaro during which time period – it takes a bit of work.
His first person narrative jumps between the present, 2066, and the past, mostly 2055 but sometimes other times in between. Kaaro lives in Rosewater, a city that has grown around an alien biodome that sometimes grants healing powers to those in its vicinity and which is also responsible for sensitives.

Discovering just what this science fictional future Nigeria is like was so much fun. Again, it takes some work to keep things straight in your head while you read this book but it is utterly rewarding. On the one hand, I wanted to learn more about who Kaaro is. When we first meet him, he seems somewhat depressed, not really knowing where to go with his life. When he is set up with beautiful young Aminat, he has something to hold on to again. Through the flashback chapters, we learn more about his criminal past, about how Rosewater came to be, and about how he started working for S45. I’m keeping all the details out and just letting you know that the fog that you may feel at the beginning of this book will slowly lift.

There was very little I didn’t like in this book. The cast of characters is interesting and varied, Kaaro himself is a diffulct and flawed protagonist but I actually really liked him. He is strangely focused on women’s looks and highly sexualizes any woman he comes into contact with but, in general, he’s a good guy who grows throughout the novel.
I also enjoyed the writing style. With Kaaro’s trips into the xenosphere, things can get a bit confusing because – as you can imagine – a world of thought doesn’t exactly follow Earth rules. In the xenosphere, Kaaro is a gryphon, physics don’t apply, but you can still run into all sorts of danger.
Probably the most intriguing part was the whole alien thing, though. The way this novel plays out, people have just come to accept the various changes alien life has brought to Earth. The biodome is visited by many, especially the old, the sick, or people who think they are broken in some way and hope to be “fixed”. The existance of Sensitives is also well-known by everyone. In order to ward them off, people use anti-fungal cream and techniques like Kaaro’s at his bank job.

I don’t really want to tell you anything about the plot (or plots, plural) because part of the fun here is finding out how everything is connected and how it all fits together at the end. In the prestent, Kaaro discovers that Sensitives seem to be dying and he’s trying to figure out what is happening to them. Are they being murdered? Does it have to do with the xenoforms and do they give them all some sort of disease? In the flashback chapters, we see some of Kaaro’s previous missions, some of which give us glimpses into politics and the alien biodome. I admit it can feel like reading several separate stories at times, but by the end, everything comes together and we get the whole puzzle. And the puzzle is just the beginning of a probably much larger tale – this is only part one of a trilogy, after all.

The nature of this book makes it very hard to talk about. It is best to be experience. I used an Audible credit for the audiobook and I can highly recommend it. It’s narrated by Bayo Gbadamosi and he does a fantastic job! Not only was it nice to hear how some of the names are pronounced but Gbadamosi also creates so much atmosphere. When Kaaro is freaked out by something, it absolutely shows in the narrative, giving me a sense of anxiety and completely immersing me in the story.

I highly enjoyed this book and have books two and three lined up and ready to go. It’s like Thompson took certain ideas and tropes that may have been there before but combined and twisted them into something that feels utterly fresh and new. It has a noir feeling to it, it’s definitely weird, it’s science fiction, and it’s about a man figuring out what to do with his life. And also there’s aliens… Mashing so many things into one book shouldn’t work but it totall does. I am hooked and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy and anything else Tade Thompson writes!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent