Source: Borrowed – Scribd
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #1
Narrator: Bayo Gbadamosi
Edition: Audiobook, 13 Hours 37 Minutes
Purchase: Amazon / Audible / Barnes & Noble
Rating: 3/5 Stars
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.
Kaarois 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.
Rosewater is a very complex narrative that centers around a town called Rosewater and a mysterious biodome that has the ability to heal people. It’s inventive, unique, and at times incredibly confusing.
The tale follows Kaarois a man who reluctantly works for the government because he is one of the few known as a Sensitive, which means he can reach into people’s minds for thoughts, memories, and occasionally hijack their senses. He also has the ability to escape into a mental landscape called the Xenosphere, where you have avatars and some incredibly strange things can happen. On top of the weirdness that is the extreme empath, there is also the matter of the alien biodome which is reanimating the dead and still remains a mystery despite an entire town being built around it. Kaarois is charged with finding out more about this dome and the secrets it holds. The story is told in three different timelines: present, then, and interludes. While it might be easier to keep up within the print format, it was absolutely baffling in audio. I had to go back and listen to the beginning of the chapters if I happened to miss them just so I could tell what the hell was going on. I initially found this incredibly frustrating, but eventually, I just resigned myself to confusion and went with it, in part because I was tired of having to rewind but also because figuring out the beginning of the chapter rarely helped me riddle out the rest of it. A lot of the book is a giant question mark and you end up with a ton of questions you need answered and that doesn’t happen until the last third of the book. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but depending on your patience for mysteries it may be a bit much. I’ve heard that it reads similar to Vandemeer’s Annihilation series, so if you’ve read and enjoyed that then this one might work well for you too.
I did enjoy a lot of the ideas and characters in this one. Kaarois isn’t a hugely likable character, he’s incredibly self-centered and sexist, both of which are made tolerable by people calling him out on it. He’s also not very forthcoming with any sort of information about his past, so all of these different elements flow into one very slowly. But I did enjoy the two female characters he interacts with Aminat and one other, whom I’m not sure how to spell her name. They are strong in their own ways and really shine, but being in Kaarois point of view really hampered some of the enjoyment. He fixates on their bodies and he’s more than a little oversexed. I want to know more about them outside of his lense, and I think the upcoming sequel might help there.
The setting of Nigeria was also fantastic and part of the reason I decided to listen to this in the first place. I think Thompson did a wonderful job really setting up this version of the world, and the city of Rosewater really has this sort of intriguing uneasiness about it.
The narrator, Bayo Gbadamosi, does an excellent job with his storytelling. He is a good fit for the complex work, and I’m so thankful that they went with him instead of something with a more flat delivery. He brings life to the book and really helped my mind focus a bit more on the difficult to follow plotline.
Overall I would say I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away. It was definitely on the weirder side and I loved the twists at the end, but an unlikeable point of view mixed with a very confusing narrative kind of made this one run a bit lukewarm for me. This is a case of it being a book that just didn’t mesh well with me, so if you like kind of quirky sci-fi that has messy characters then definitely check this out! I’m thinking of checking out the sequel when it drops next year because of its focus on a different character.