Rosewater is the first sci fi book I’ve read that is set in Africa, it was a nice change in pace from what else I’ve been reading so far this year. I’ve seen a bunch of positive reviews from friends for this book so I decided to give it a go!
Kaaro has two jobs, one is a mundane job working at a bank, the other is working for a secret section of the government known as S-45. He’s recruited by this organization because he’s a sensitive, someone who can sense the emotions and enter the memories of other people. In the past he has used this skill for “finding”. He’s able to trace items of value to where they are hidden or lost. During his childhood and teenage years he’d know where things are concealed under floorboards, or buried in the desert and lived as a thief. He can’t, however, find things that aren’t sentimental to other people, so although he can find someone’s wedding ring, he can’t find a cache of gold ore in a mountain.
His powers real source is an alien biodome, a select few people respond to spores that are released from this dome and it gives them supernatural powers. It also allows them to enter something known as the Xenosphere, a very surreal sub-reality where people’s thoughts and consciousness are networked together. He’s able to communicate with other sensitives, as well as access the minds of people who are in comas using the Xenosphere.
Kaaro is used as a detective by S-45, his job is to get into people’s minds to access their memories about what crimes they’ve committed and where the evidence is so they can bring a conviction. He doesn’t enjoy his job, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. S-45 saved him from being tortured to death when he was found stealing in his youth, and ever since then, he’s been working for them. It’s not a job you can just quit and walk away from so he finds himself stuck.
This book is split into different timelines that follow three main periods in Kaaro’s life, childhood through early adulthood, his induction into S-45, and the present. I didn’t really know where it was all going and I had a lot of questions while reading. What’s inside the biodome? Why are the aliens here? What happened to America? There were brief mentions that countries were trying to become the “New America, and hints that the country had fallen. The three timelines for the first half of the book are used as character development and world-building, and not so much the plot. We see Rosewater grow from a field with tents into a full-blown city which I thought was really neat. Although I was interested in the world-building, and I appreciated getting to know the character better, I still wasn’t sure what the point of it all was, I wasn’t seeing an end goal of any kind, or some problem that needed to be solved. That is until the other sensitives start dying or losing their powers. Kaaro is one of the only ones left, and no one knows why. Are they getting sick, is this the biodome’s doing or some natural occurrence? It’s at this point I start getting interested in the plot, and not pulled along just by the worldbuilding.
Kaaro is more of a grey character, he’s not working for the betterment of his people, or to help anyone, or for any other noble cause. He does a job to get money and go home. When he was a thief he didn’t show any regrets until he was caught, and his regrets were largely selfish, and not any great revelation that what he was doing was wrong. He’s the sort of person who will save himself before others. He’s not someone who finds any pleasure out of making other’s lives more difficult, but he’ll do it all the same if it benefits him. I found him to be a very well written character, but I didn’t warm up to him all that much. What really kept me going was the world building which I found utterly fascinating.
Although only some people become sensitives, there are healing properties that the biodome provides that everyone can benefit from. The dome opens once a year, and when it does, people come from all around the globe hoping to be healed. When the dome opens, spores pour out and help rid the body of cancer, fixes broken bones, cures HIV etc. It doesn’t always go as planned though, some people are put back together… wrong. Deformities like multiple extra limbs, eyes growing in the wrong places, and other horrors are a common enough occurrence that Kaaro doesn’t understand why people come at all unless it’s a dire situation. Some other unwanted side effects accompany the mass healing event, beings known as Reanimates rise from the grave fully healed, but they aren’t the people they were before death. They have no memory, no speech, and can be violent and difficult to kill. Those who die around the dome are buried in concrete so they can’t come back to harass the living.
This book had some odd ticks with sexuality, there were a lot of erections and time spent describing sexual feelings and a few sex scenes. I’m not typically a fan of that, but I think what stood out to me more is the lack of emotions by the narrator when describing it. It made things feel a bit clinical and detached, especially when descriptions of his girlfriends came into play.
I may have made a mistake listening to the audiobook instead of reading this one. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that the narrator was African and had a noticeable accent, this absolutely lent authenticity to the atmosphere and setting, but, it also slowed things down for me. This probably isn’t an issue for most people, but I have a really hard time with accents I’m not familiar with. I can listen to a British narrator at 2x speed with no issues, but I’m unaccustomed to listening to African accents (outside of Trevor Noah, and this guy’s accent is stronger). It forced me to be hyper-focused on what was being said because I misheard things a few times and got confused. The second reason is the three different timelines going all at once – it doesn’t help that the timelines are all written in the present tense. I lost my place frequently despite the fact the chapters stated at the beginning what timeline you were in, and I had to start over twice.
Overall, this was an exceptionally unique book and I’m glad I read it, I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series. I would say the biggest strength is the world-building, it was intricate and detailed without any long info dumps, which takes skill. It’s a difficult thing to write something as surreal as the Xenosphere without leaving the reader confused, but each time I felt like I knew what was going on. If you’re looking for something different or something new I would recommend checking this one out!
- Sci fi – aliens
- high tech
- african setting
- single pov
- grey characters
- Plotting: 13/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 10/15
- Originality: 13/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 81/100 – 4 stars – recommended!