I don’t read a massive amount of science fiction but Rosewater had an interesting premise.
It’s set in a near-future Nigeria where aliens have landed and occupy a biodome. Rosewater is the community that grew up around them. The biodome opens its doors twice a year and exposure apparently heals people with diseases. It can also, however, cause bodies to heal where the mind is dead and these ‘reanimates’ haunt the community.
The most intriguing effect of the aliens is that they are believed to have led to a fungus-like ‘xenoform’ which leads those who are susceptible to experience a heightened level of empathy, which almost amounts to mind reading. One such is Kaaro. Kaaro is a nuanced, morally ambiguous character. He now has both a day job and moonlights as an interrogator but we see through flashbacks how he was once a petty thief who used his gift to work as a ‘finder’, a kind of unofficial private investigator, before being investigated.
This is the element of the story I found most intriguing. In the current political culture, where the ability to ‘other’ anyone who stands in your way appears to be a strength, empathy can feel like a burden rather than a gift. With Kaaro, you see both elements, and how it can be used to harm as well as help (as an agent he assists at interrogations because he can vividly see and experience what the suspect remembers).
This book has numerous strands. I was fascinated by the vividly realised world and the allusions it draws between magic/witchcraft and the powers of people like Kaaro. I also liked the fact that Kaaro could block his powers by using anti-fungal cream, combining the magical and the banal! Sometimes, though, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information – about the aliens, about how other countries have reacted, about the crimes and political upheavals Kaaro is investigating, his personal life, and a mysterious illness which seems to be infecting Kaaro and his fellow empaths.
While one of the sub-plots wraps up, a lot of the story is left unresolved. It is clearly marketed as the first volume of a trilogy so that’s fair enough, but if, like me, you’re just dipping your toe in the genre this might not be for you. If, however, you’re in it for the long haul, this is a well-written, complex and pacy book. (And if you do make it through the trilogy can you come back and tell me how it ends?).
I received a copy of Rosewater from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Rosewater on Goodreads
Enjoyed this? Take a look at my review of another sci-fi thriller, Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre