Rosewater by Tade Thompson: An Arthur C. Clarke Award Review

Rosewater by Tade Thompson is the first of this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award books I read. It set me up well for this year’s selection being a book I would not normally have read. Set in the near future of Nigeria, the books hero is a gifted psychic, an ability which has emerged in the human population following the arrival of an enigmatic alien creature that lives inside a dome which periodically cures people and can raise the dead.

The setting of Nigeria made the whole outlook fresh for someone from England. It was refreshing to see a sweeping alien arrival story played out somewhere other than America or the West, likewise, the central character wasn’t your average hero. There can be a cliché of being the all-powerful hero or the reverse the anti-hero who is dislikeable and the antithesis of the heroic trope, the protagonist, Kaaro, is neither of these. He most definitely is not a hero and although he does lean towards the antihero, he is more of an average person struggling to survive.

Story wise it was a little slow in places and Tade uses trademark flashbacks and interludes to fill in narrative blanks and reveal information only very slowly. For much of the book we are introduced to people and place and we are given the parameters of the world he has built, the fact that this take most of the book is testament that this is the first part of a trilogy, and this is just the opener.

Tade creates an interesting world with a good alien, Wormwood, that is interesting and complex. As a biologist I liked the depth to which he went into regarding alien biology but is not too deep as to be unfathomable to the lay person. The story sets itself out as a quasi-murder mystery with fellow psychics dying but this is treated more a vehicle for storytelling rather than a detailed plot. Likewise, some characters are introduced without being fully realised in an attempt to add mystery, a little more exposition was needed.

And here comes the rub, is this a good book. No. Is it a good first instalment of a trilogy. Yes. This book felt more like a down payment on future payoff rather than a novel of and in of itself. Rosewater and its sequels in the Wormwood Trilogy promise to be an excellent thoughtful sequence of books telling a wider and more nuanced story but in this instalment it does little but set the stage.

I can see why the book was nominated, the ideas are interesting and the setting unique. Tade has talent as a writer and I look forward to reading the whole series but as a standalone entry to the awards I m afraid it was lacking.

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