Review: “The Rosewater Insurrection” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for some sci-fi. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Tade Thompson’s 2019 novel “The Rosewater Insurrection” (the sequel to Thompson’s excellent “Rosewater) since a relative pre-ordered a copy of it for me as a gift a few weeks before I prepared this review. And, yes, I write these reviews quite far in advance.

Before I begin the review, I should probably also point out that “The Rosewater Insurrection” is a direct sequel to “Rosewater” (and is the second book in a trilogy). Although it contains a few recaps, the story probably won’t make that much sense if you haven’t already read “Rosewater” first. So, this is a series that should probably be read in order.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Rosewater Insurrection”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2019 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “The Rosewater Insurrection” that I read.

The novel begins in Nigeria with a flashback scene set in 2055. Eric is a sensitive (someone with psychic-like abilities, due to alien spores) working as a field agent for Section 45. He has been sent to Camp Rosewater, the settlement surrounding a mysterious alien bio-dome that has recently arrived on Earth, with orders to track down and kill a local revolutionary called Jack Jacques.

Eric infiltrates Jack’s camp and spends quite a while working as a labourer there, waiting for a chance to get close to Jack. But, when he eventually does, he gets a message from Kaaro telling him to get the hell out of there, because Section 45 consider him expendable and are going to use him as a human targeting beacon for an air-strike. Eric flees and is demoted to a desk job.

And, after Molara delivers a short lecture about the symbiotic history of humans and aliens to the reader, we flash forwards to the city of Rosewater in 2067, where a woman called Alyssa wakes up and finds that she has no memory whatsoever…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, like “Rosewater”, it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 As you might expect, this sequel tells a larger and more epic story than “Rosewater” does. Although this means that the story doesn’t feel quite as focused during the earlier parts, if you stick with it then you’ll be rewarded with a gripping, spectacular sci-fi thriller that could probably put even the largest-budget modern movies to shame 🙂 Seriously, why hasn’t this series been turned into a film or TV series yet?

In terms of this novel’s sci-fi elements, it expands a lot on some of the stuff introduced in “Rosewater”. Not only do we get to learn a lot more about the aliens’ backstory, motivations and plans for Earth (including a novel twist on the familiar “alien invasion” trope) but the novel also includes all of the intriguing background details that you’d expect from a biopunk/cyberpunk novel too 🙂 The world-building is as good as ever, and the novel’s technology, alien fauna etc… also plays a role in the story in all sorts of dramatic, and occasionally surprising ways, too. Even so, this novel is very slightly more focused on it’s thriller elements than it’s sci-fi elements.

In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, it contains a really good mixture of suspenseful scenes, fast-paced action set pieces, tech/sci-fi based scenes and political/military/war drama too. All of these things also exist in both large and small scale versions too, adding even more thrilling variety and depth to the novel too. Although the novel takes a while to set up all of it’s many plot threads (which can make the story feel mildly confusing or unfocused at first), everything comes together in a really spectacular way and the mid-late parts of the story. Reading this novel feels like watching a much more intelligent, complex, creative and immersive version of a large-budget CGI blockbuster film 🙂

As you might expect if you’ve read “Rosewater”, the novel also contains some elements from the horror genre too 🙂 Although these are less prominent than they were in “Rosewater”, they turn up in a few wonderfully creepy moments (eg: the scene with Bewon and the plant growing in his apartment) – but their main purpose here is to add more atmosphere/realism to the setting and also to add extra impact, creativity and epic-ness to some of the novel’s action scenes. Even though this is less of a horror novel than it’s predecessor, these horror genre elements (eg: body horror, gory horror, zombies and psychological horror) really add a lot to the novel 🙂

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting. Not only is this a novel about how power corrupts (shown through both Jack’s character arc and a few references to “Macbeth”, amongst other things) but it is also a novel about the environment, politics, warfare, how history is recorded etc… too. Most of this thematic stuff is more of a subtle background thing, but it plays a fairly major role in the events of the novel and also helps to add extra depth and realism to the story too.

As for the characters, this novel is as good as ever 🙂 Unlike “Rosewater”, this novel focuses a lot less on Kaaro (although he still gets some character development and a few really cool moments) and instead focuses a lot more on Aminat, Alyssa and Jack. All three of these characters have a decent amount of characterisation and character development – with Aminat going from being a slightly squeamish mid-level agent to a much more tough and heroic character, with Alyssa coming to terms with what is happening to her and with Jack slowly becoming corrupted by power. Yet, in an interesting twist, Jack isn’t the novel’s villain – but someone that the other characters have to reluctantly work with for the sake of their collective survival.

In terms of the writing, this novel is both similar and different to “Rosewater”. For the most part, this novel uses present-tense third-person narration that is informal enough to add personality to the story and keep things moving at a decent pace, but also descriptive and/or informative enough to add a lot of atmosphere to the story and make everything feel solid enough. The third-person narration also allows for a more complex and large-scale story. There are also a few mildly experimental flourishes too – such as random “extracts” from an in-universe historical novel (written by a character called Walter) that appear occasionally and provide extra backstory.

The novel also includes several first-person perspective segments and, although the jump from one perspective to another is a little surprising, the narrative voice is consistent enough and these segments are signposted well enough (each chapter title tells you which character it focuses on, and the infrequent chapters focusing on Eric and Walter are in first-person perspective) that this didn’t really become too confusing. Still, I’m kind of puzzled by this aspect of the novel – although, at a guess, Eric’s segments are in first-person because his opening segment is similar to the first-person narration used throughout “Rosewater” (and it provides a good bridge between the two books) and Walter’s segment is in first-person because it focuses a lot more on his thoughts, reactions etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 374 pages, it is shorter than “Rosewater”, yet manages to tell a much larger story 🙂 And, although the story’s plot may feel a little less focused at first, all of the novel’s plot threads blend together well and provide a lot of payoff. The novel also contains a really good mixture of fast-paced action and moderately-paced drama/suspense, whilst still being as compelling as you’d expect from a thriller novel. Plus, although this novel is the middle part of a trilogy, the ending contains as much drama and resolution as you would expect from a stand-alone novel 🙂

All in all, this is a really enjoyable and compelling novel 🙂 Yes, it takes a little bit longer to really get started than “Rosewater” did (and the perspective/focus changes might take you a while to get used to), but it tells an even more spectacular story 🙂 This novel is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, taking everything good about the first novel and turning it up to eleven 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Rosewater” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for some hardboiled fiction, so I thought that I’d take a look at a second-hand copy of Tade Thompson’s 2016 cyberpunk-influenced sci-fi thriller novel “Rosewater” that I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of weeks.

So, let’s take a look at “Rosewater”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Rosewater” that I read.

The novel is set in the Nigerian city of Rosewater in 2066. This city is only about ten years old, having been built around a mysterious alien bio-dome that fell to Earth. These alien visitations to Earth have not only had a major effect on geopolitics (with Russia, China and Africa becoming more powerful) but have also had a biological effect on the planet too. In addition to occasionally healing the sick, reanimating the dead, introducing new lifeforms and providing free electricity, the alien bio-dome has also caused some humans to become “sensitives”, or psychics.

Kaaro is a cynical, world-weary sensitive who works as part of a human firewall for a bank in Rosewater. Every day, he reads vintage novels to create interference to prevent rogue psychics from hacking into the bank. His co-worker Bola insists on setting him up on a date with her friend Aminat during a visit to one of the dome’s healing sessions. But, during the date, he receives a text from Section 45 – a mysterious branch of the country’s security services that Kaaro secretly works for. So, reluctantly, he goes over to their offices and extracts information from the mind of a tortured prisoner.

But, soon, strange things start happening. Kaaro gets psychic visits from a mysterious woman called Molara, his boss warns him about Aminat, some criminals are after him and, even worse, several of the other psychics start dying from a mysterious disease….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 Imagine a combination of a spy/action/detective thriller novel, Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”, a William Gibson novel, Greg Bear’s “Blood Music“, Eric Brown’s “Bengal Station” trilogy, the irreverent time-jumping weirdness of something like Robert Brockway’s “The Unnoticeables” and maybe the “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” TV series and this might give you some vague clue of what to expect 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s sci-fi elements – which are really awesome 🙂 Not only is there a lot of good worldbuilding, showing all of the effects that alien contact has had on Earth, but it is also one of those interesting cyberpunk-style novels which doesn’t actually involve the internet.

Like with the hallucinogenic feathers in Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”, this is a novel that features cyberspace-like scenes that take place within a psychic space called the “Xenosphere” (a traditional VR internet called “Nimbus” exists too, but it is just a background detail).

Not only does this lend the novel a slightly fantastical quality, but it is kept firmly in the sci-fi genre thanks to the inclusion of an actual scientific explanation for it and – by extension – a series of rules surrounding it. And, since this novel relies on the mind (rather than machines) for it’s virtual worlds, it can be a lot more surreal, interesting and just generally creative with these scenes.

Not only is this novel’s worldbuilding absolutely excellent but, like the best sci-fi, it is also completely original too. The aliens are quite literally alien, with the characters knowing enough about them to live near them but not knowing enough for them to be intriguingly mysterious at the same time. Likewise, I cannot praise the atmosphere and descriptions of the city of Rosewater itself highly enough. It’s a really interesting place 🙂

In keeping with the cyberpunk genre, the setting also contains some dystopian elements – however, in an interesting twist, they don’t come from the usual mega-corporations but from more realistic things like government, outdated legislation, mob justice, crime etc… instead. In other words, this novel feels really original 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements are also brilliant too. Not only is this novel written in a fast-paced way, but it also makes excellent use of things like suspense, intrigue, secrets, mini-cliffhangers, mystery and a few action sequences to keep everything compelling.

Another awesome thing about this novel is how it mixes the immediacy of first-person narration with the traditional thriller technique of multiple plot threads. Most first-person thrillers that attempt this use the awkward device of multiple first-person narrators – but this novel instead uses a series of flashback chapters set a decade or two earlier to provide a second plot thread without breaking the immersion by switching the narrator. These time jumps are also very clearly signposted (not only do they tell you the date and location, but they are also marked as “Then” or “Now”) which prevents them from being confusing or breaking the flow of the story 🙂

Plus, this novel also contains horror elements too 🙂 Seriously, these were a really brilliant surprise. In addition to some chilling moments of dystopian horror, there’s also a good amount of psychological horror, a few moments of gory horror, some surreal body horror, a brilliantly intense scene of monster horror and – even better – zombie horror too 🙂 Even though the zombies don’t show up that often, the fact that this novel blends the cyberpunk and zombie genres is really awesome 🙂

In terms of the characters, this novel is reasonably good. The narrator, Kaaro, gets the most characterisation and he’s a classic cyberpunk protagonist of the morally-ambiguous, world-weary and cynical type (who, like Deckard from “Blade Runner”, also works for an evil police force). But, thanks to his narration and intriguing backstory (and a few well-placed moments of humour), he comes across as a really interesting, realistic and surprisingly sympathetic character. Although the novel’s other characters get slightly less characterisation, they seem reasonably realistic and there’s enough characterisation for you to care about what happens to them.

As for the writing, it is excellent 🙂 This novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of fast-paced, personality-filled way that you’d expect from a good sci-fi or horror thriller novel 🙂 Not only that, the narration also reads like a more understated and streamlined version of the kind of classic hardboiled cyberpunk narration that you’d expect from a writer like William Gibson 🙂 Plus, the narration still manages to remain descriptive enough to add atmosphere and bring the story’s settings to life too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 390 pages, it’s a little on the longer side of things – but is written in the kind of fast-paced way that won’t make this too much of an issue. The novel is paced like a thriller – with multiple plot threads, compelling suspense, lots of dramatic moments etc..- which also helps to avoid some of the slowness that is typically associated with science fiction. Plus, although this novel is very clearly the first novel in a series (there’s even a note about the sequel at the end), the main plot has enough resolution for the sequel hook/background cliffhanger at the end not to feel frustrating or unsatisfying.

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a more innovative and imaginative version of the the cyberpunk genre that moves at twice the usual pace, includes lots of atmosphere, some well-placed horror elements and an interesting premise, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.