Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 432
Release Date: September 18th, 2018
Series: THE WORMWOOD TRILOGY, Book 1
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked It!
In 2066, the Earth has become a very different place, thanks to the arrival of an alien presence in 2012. Although the large entity landed in London, its influence is everywhere, including in the Nigerian city of Rosewater. The city itself is relatively new, established when an alien dome appeared a decade or so ago in the area, bringing with it, among other things, a ray of healing that floods the town every year on the same day. But the arrival of the entity also created a race of telepaths known as sensitives. The Nigerian government has recruited many to its department that specializes in dealing with alien matters; one such recruit is a man named Kaaro, a former thief who is increasingly apathetic about his responsibilities. But when Kaaro realizes that all the sensitives he knows are dying, he has to figure out what is causing it, before he himself becomes a victim.
The publisher has pitched THE WORMWOOD TRILOGY as “perfect for fans of Jeff Vandermeer, N. K. Jemisin, William Gibson, and Ann Leckie,” and I actually think is the perfect blend of authors to reference. Take the weirdness of Vandermeer, the prose style of Jemisin, the technobabble of Gibson and a creative narrative structure a la Leckie, throw it in a blender, and you have ROSEWATER. I will admit that on first blush, ROSEWATER was not my cup of tea, in part due to frequent time jumps in the narrative, going backwards and forwards to sometimes seemingly random points in Kaaro’s life at a rate that made it difficult for me to keep track of when we were and what had or had not happened. Add in the blunt writing style that casually (and frequently) discusses bodily functions and fluids and sexual acts in a casual manner, something that I personally bounce off of, and you have a book that was not shaping up to be a favorite.
What kept me going, though, was the creative world-building, particularly when it came to the telepathy of the sensitives and how “thoughtspace” works. The telepathy, you soon learn, is based on alien fungi in the air that some humans can respond to, leading to some fascinating ways that the telepathy can be dampened or blocked (a good rainstorm can temporarily sever one’s connection). On top of the practical ways telepathy works, there’s the more abstract “thoughtspace,” the astral plane if you will, where sensitives interact with each other and with the world at large on a telepathic level. It’s beautiful and weird and I loved the crafting that went into that aspect of the book.
When it comes to the series as a whole, I have a suspicion that this may be an instance where I enjoy the second book more than the first. As mentioned above, the frequent time jumps in this book made if difficult for me to follow what was happening overall. Now, normally I don’t mind time jumps; when used properly, they can be an interesting way of creating tension and mystery as you reveal how events and people are connected. What made ROSEWATER more difficult was that you were frequently dropped into scenes with little to no context, and the significance of a particular moment of time might not be revealed until very late in the book. Rather than being intrigued by what I didn’t know, I was stymied by it, trying to chart the timeline of things like when the dome first appeared in Rosewater and when Kaaro joined the government group S45. With such a deliberately vague narrative, I spent more time trying to grasp the overall scenario than simply enjoying the journey.
But in the last third of the book, things FINALLY start making sense. There were some important reveals both on a narrative and character level, and other things began clicking into place. I finally had some answers I needed and a threat I understood. Add in the fact that I know that book two is primarily from the POV of a secondary character in ROSEWATER, and I am now vastly more curious to see where the story goes. The ending didn’t quite manage to click this series into the “Give it to me now!” column for me, but it did redeem itself enough that I want to see more, so you will hopefully be seeing my thoughts on THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION in the coming months.