Rosewater by Tade Thomson
Posted February 26, 2017on:
published in 2016
where I got it: purchased new
read my interview with Tade Thompson here
Kaaro is a finder. Simply think about something you’ve lost, and he’ll tell you where it is. The way he describes how he does this is absolutely incredible – he follows your thought backwards. You’re thinking of a ring you lost? He’ll follow the thread of your thoughts to you remembering where you dropped it, or who you lent it to. Not only can Kaaro follow your thoughts backwards to help you find a lost item, but he can also read your thoughts. His specific talent may not be exactly the same as those of other sensitives in the city, but their gifts are all very, very real.
By day, Kaaro helps fill a bank with useless white noise so mind readers can’t easily pull account numbers out of the minds of customers. By night, he’s an interrogator with the government, pulling thoughts, images, faces, and places out of the minds of criminals and describing them to a forensic artist. In the privacy of his own home, he does his best to forget the violence of his past and tries not to think about what the government does with the information he pulls out of people’s heads.
The city of Rosewater started as a pilgrimage village, and grew into a city. It surrounds a dome known as Utopicity, an enclosed space which is the remnant of a lump of alien something that crash landed about 50 years ago. Once a year, the dome opens up, physically healing people in the vicinity. If you live in Rosewater, the yearly pilgrimage of people hoping to be healed is a completely normal thing. Kaaro knows enough about Utopicity to know he doesn’t want anything to do with it, although the dome is always inescapably in the background of everything in his life.
Rosewater is the strangest and most unique alien invasion story I have ever read.
One of the many brilliant things about how this story is presented is how Thompson dances around the aliens, how Kaaro doesn’t care about their presence or want to have anything to with them, although that ship sailed years ago. There is this very bizarre normalizing of what’s going, and not just normalizing the alien lump that cures people, but normalizing violence and mob mentalities, and normalizing witch hunts against anything our society doesn’t understand. You may disagree with some of the things Kaaro does, but don’t go thinking he’s immoral. His coping mechanism involves a lot of amorality, a lot of distancing himself from his life. Judge him all you want, but realize you have your own coping mechanisms too.
(I can see how readers might think “oh, another amoral character, been there done that”, and yeah, I get that. But Kaaro is different, he comes to where he is from a different path. Read his story and you’ll see what I mean.)
Rosewater is a slow burn, and Kaaro is a shy protagonist. If you are the kind of reader who wants to know everything that’s going on right at the first, this is a novel you will struggle with. (on a thrown into the deep end scale of 1 to Iain M. Banks, Rosewater probably gets a 7) Peppered with flashbacks, the present tense timeline suddenly makes a kind of intensely horrible sense at about the halfway point through the book, when you’ve gotten a lot more of the details out of the flashbacks. Also of note: the entire novel is written in present tense, even the flashbacks, so pay attention to the chapter headings so you know when you are! I was very tempted to go back through the novel and read the chapters in completely chronological order, just for kicks, and many reviewers have said Rosewater takes on a whole deeper meaning on the 2nd read, as since you already know Kaaro’s past, his present makes so much more sense.
There is so much I enjoyed about Rosewater – Kaaro’s shyness, his flaws and coping mechanisms, the way sensitives traverse the xenosphere, the way Thompson dances around the big reveal while tickling you with it the entire time, Kaaro’s relationship with his boss, his relationship with his girlfriend (and her mysterious brother), and so much more. I felt like I was earning Kaaro’s trust as I survived his past. Any author can write a character and a flashback, but how many authors can write a character who demands the reader earn their trust? Not that many. It’s a fun experience for reviewers who can often feel jaded.
If you are looking for a unique and multi-layered alien invasion story that has a truly devastating twist, Rosewater is your book. You’ll note I barely mentioned the alien invasion angle in this review? Yep, there’s a reason for that.