The description of Rosewater sounds more like a thriller than a science fiction novel, and that is one of the many appeals surrounding this novel. A government agent with a criminal past and with psychic abilities must determine whether or not the notorious alien biodome in Nigeria is responsible for killing other people with similar psychic powers. Tade Thompson’s Rosewater will make readers question everything about our world and our talents.

Kaaro is the protagonist and he is a very interesting character. Due to his psychic abilities—known as being a “sensitive”—he works as a security monitor, more like someone who can surf the security network by hacking other hackers with his mind, at the bank. And, because of his criminal history, Kaaro is coerced into working as an informant for the government. He has very poor self-esteem and he’s insecure about everything, especially the alien biodome. Kaaro is one of the few people in Nigeria (and in the rest of the world) who is overly cautious of the healing distributed by the biodome. Kaaro’s outlook on life is pessimistic—due to his past—but, he is able to find enjoyment in his social life, but that soon adds another layer of mystery to Kaaro’s life.

Other characters who make the story are: Aminat, Kaaro’s girlfriend who has as many secrets as he does; Femi Alaagomeji, Kaaro’s boss (with the government agency); Molara, a strange being who resides within the xenosphere (the network Kaaro monitors at the bank); and, the mysterious Bicycle Girl who may or may not have ties to the biodome, its purpose, and its residents. All of these minor characters are essential to the story for two reasons: one, it lets the reader know the biodome is not the only thing that’s happening in Nigeria—in terms of mystery and the occult; and two, life for these characters haven’t improve because the biodome transformed Nigeria into a tourist spot. All of these characters—and the other locals—are surviving, not thriving, in their communities. It is obvious other things are occurring, and these characters begin to unravel what’s going on.

Rosewater stands out because the setting (a futuristic Nigeria) and the mention of science and religion throughout the narrative provides a sense of realism. The biodome appeared eleven years ago and offers healing of the physical body of any and all aliments—at no cost. Many people travel to Nigeria in order to accept this gift, but there are just as many people who are suspicious of the aliens and their reason for arriving on Earth. These elements of realism not only make the story more believable, but also lets readers know the arrival of the aliens neither brought about the end-of-the-world, nor any prosperity to the denizens of the planet they’ve invaded. This forces you to consider what you would do if you found yourself within a similar predicament.

Readers will be intrigued by how Thompson reveals his protagonist to be a reliable narrator. Usually, readers are left to determine whether or not a character—especially the protagonist—is reliable. However, the author’s use of an achronological plot in which, the chapters move back and forth across a time span of thirty years in various (and actual) locations, provide answers to the questions surrounding the characters—especially Kaaro—and the setting. The events focus on Kaaro’s past and it will leave readers wondering if things had gone differently for Kaaro, then would he have a similar outlook on either his life, or the aliens?

The author goes into how and why everyone has secrets, how the government agencies aren’t as knowledgeable as ordinary citizens believe, and the cause(s) and the consequences of having “gifts” whether or not they are innate or given. At the same time, it can be debated that Thompson tells a cautionary tale: be wary of any promises from either a divine, or an extraterrestrial force. And, focusing most of the attention on one or two annual events in a large city serves as a negative distraction for all of the residents. Something else is always going on elsewhere; and, some things do have a “catch.”

Rosewater is an immersive novel that will make readers question all of the authority figures and the motives of aliens and religious leaders. The blending of science fiction, fantasy, religion, and mystery make this novel standout from the other works of the speculative fiction genre that were released in 2018. And, while both the plot and the characters took longer to develop than what I am used to, it gartered enough acclaim to win both the Nommo Award for Best Novel in 2017, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2019!

Rosewater is a great combination of science fiction tropes, human behavior, divine intervention, government conspiracies and originality. This is not a novel to be missed!


By L. A. Young

L. A. Young is never without a book in her hands. Growing up, she never denied being a fan of the SFF genre. As an adult, she studied literature, folklore, education and communications. She enjoys reading magical realism, metaphysical fiction and manga, too. Two of her favorite movies are Spirited Away and Pan’s Labyrinth. She spends her free-time writing both fiction and non-fiction, watching movies and TV shows and anime, playing video games, and (of course) reading. You can follow her on Twitter @AquaVenatus.

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