It’s always a treat to read books that give a fresh and new take on genre fiction. Tade Thompson‘s Rosewater (review copy from Orbit books) is the first in his Wormwood trilogy, and unlike anything else out there at the moment.
The world changed when the Earth was invaded by first contact with an alien entity. But this isn’t your traditional alien invasion. An alien fungus has landed and is colonising the planet after sending its tendrils and spores everywhere. The USA has gone dark, and Europe is cut off. Rosewater is a town in Nigeria that has grown up around a dome-like structure grown by the fungus. It provides free energy, and once a year the dome opens, healing the sick and bringing the recently dead back to life as zombies. Rosewater has become a destination for the desperate seeking healing and for those studying the dome. Over time it has grown into a thriving town full of graft and superstition.
Kaaro is one of those that has been changed by exposure to the fungus. His symbiotic relationship with it gives him psychic powers. It makes him a finder, able to use the connection between people and objects to find lost things. By day Kaaro works with others of his kind as a psychic firewall for one of the major banks, working in shifts to stop people like him breaking the safeguards and stealing from the bank. By night Kaaro is the unwilling employee of the security forces, interrogating suspects. But people like Kaaro are slowly dying, and no-one knows why.
Kaaro is not your typical white hat hero. He uses his powers to steal from the people around him. He objectifies women and exploits them for sex. He is rude and insubordinate to his bosses. He is largely indifferent to his colleagues and it takes him a long time to notice or care about the fate of the other people with powers like his.
This is a fresh story with a pleasing sense of mystery that steadfastly refuses to comply with traditional genre tropes, and does so proudly. At one stage one of the characters says to Kaaro, “I am tired of women and men of destiny. The idea of a singular hero and a manifest destiny just makes us all lazy. There is no destiny. There is choice, there is action, and any other narrative perpetuates a myth that someone else out there will fix our problems with a magic sword and a blessing from the gods.”
We need more stories that get away from those over-used story-telling modes. I can’t wait for the sequel.
Goodreads rating: 4*