Rosewater Insurrection- Tade Thompson
Paperback, 375 pages
Review by Joe Gordon
I’ve been recommending Tade Thompson’s first Rosewater novel since I first read it last autumn, and it went on to feature prominently on my annual Best of the Year list for 2018 books. So to say I have been looking forward to this second volume is something of an understatement. In fact when I read the original book I had no idea it was actually going to be a series – it felt very self-contained, although the world Thompson has conjured up was so rich I was very glad to learn he was going to explore it further. With Insurrection, Tade has side-stepped the normal serial approach of most multi-volume SF&F, instead rather than lead simply and directly from the previous events he takes different angles here, some of which give another perspective on what we saw in the first book, others moving on the story.
Rather than following Kaaro from the first book, Insurrection follows several other characters, some we are familiar with from Rosewater. Others new, prominent among them Eric (another intelligence operative and along with Kaaro the only psychic sensitive left alive), the mayor Jack Jacques (who chose his public name for PR purposes, a real politician!) and Aminat, a scientist and another S45 secret service operative, who is also the girlfriend of Kaaro. In some nice touches this helps round out the emotional believability of the characters. We see more of their relationship from Aminat’s perspective, and why they love each other, despite Kaaro’s many failings.
This multi-character perspective could be confusing in the wrong hands, but Thompson keeps a tight reign on his narrative and his different characters, each chapter labelled with the name of the person we are following in those pages. This allows for a much wider view of the events taking place in the second book. There’s a real sense of Thompson, having established the world of Rosewater in book one, now opening it up. We see not only the ongoing potential threat from the alien presence in Rosewater (perhaps the most slow-motion alien invasion ever in SF?) but the personal lives of various people, from those working like Kaaro did in S45 to gangsters and the political elite (the two not being entirely separate, no-one will be shocked to hear).
The title may refer to the political insurrection, as Jacques attempts to proclaim Rosewater as an independent city-state, evoking a predictably aggressive response from the main Nigerian government. But it may also refer to a secretive society that moves behind the scenes (shades of the Illimunati and other such conspiracies) of which Jacques is a part-but not always following their hidden agenda, perhaps following his own- or even a schism between the lifeforms that have come from the alien presence in Rosewater, with different creatures who may have very different ideas of what they want from planet Earth, while the humans are tossed in the middle, many still unaware of what is really happening.
It’s a much wider-ranging story than the first Rosewater, but the solidity of that first book setting the scenery allows for this expansion, while the multiple character views give not only more angles on what is happening, they also often show conflicting ideas and agendas, reminding us that each person here has their own ideas and goals. The ways they are willing to try and achieve them makes them much more believable as characters. The increase in the threat to humanity from the aliens is ratcheted up several levels here too, and between the Big Threat and the Personal Threats it’s a damned good mix for snaring the reader into this book, while, as with the first book, Thompson’s descriptive prose really gives you a feel for the sights, sounds and smells of this future Nigeria. I can’t wait for book three…