Synopsis: After an alien outpost appears in near-future Kenya, some humans develop psychic powers. Kaaro is one such human, a thief until the Kenyan government forcibly recruits him into their intelligence agency.
Book Review: A very interesting read. We start with some really cool speculative elements right at the start, and we slowly get more explanations about them, more of them, and deeper effects and consequences of them. This keeps the feelings of wonder and exploration rolling high all the way through, which is really nice. There’s a LOT of magic/tech in this world, and in almost every chapter there’s another cool thing.
The setting is a crumbling dystopia, and it appears the entire world has basically gone to shit. It feels a lot like cyberpunk in that regard — society has ceased to function, the government is basically an extortion mob, and everyone is a defect-bot grabbing whatever advantage they can. Trust doesn’t exist because anyone who trusted someone got exploited out of existence. “Justice” is handled by vigilant mobs lynching people, and not being overly concerned with establishing actual guilt first. No one thinks much beyond the next few days, because there isn’t a high expectancy that you’ll live long, so you might as well indulge any pleasures you do manage to find. The protagonist isn’t very likable, but one understands his motivations and can relate to him. If I lived in a crap-sack world like that, I might end up that way too.
As for the story itself though, there isn’t much to say about it. We follow Kaaro across a period of time, and a number of interesting things happen to him. But he doesn’t have much agency for most of the novel. There doesn’t seem to be any narrative thrust. A series of events occur, but they don’t lead to any particular resolution. In that regard, it seems to mirror Kaaro’s situation very well. He’s also adrift in the world, without a cause to drive him or loved ones to care for. This makes me think it may be an intentional decision by Thompson, letting us feel what it’s like to be Kaaro via a lack of narrative structure. Nonetheless, I would have liked this much more if there was a traditional story arc of some kind. That’s one of the major things I read stories for. :)
That being said, the good parts outshine the bad. I really like being thrust in these sorts of crumbling dystopias. It’s not pleasant, it’s borderline horrifying, but man it really scratches a fiction itch for me. I like dark stuff, and this is a great portrayal of a hopeless, dark place, with lots of really cool alien stuff heavily mixed in. Recommended!
Book Club Review: I’m not sure this makes a great book club book. In our book club, most of the discussion revolves around themes explored in books, or character arcs, or the storyline. Rosewater didn’t have very much in that regard. Kaaro isn’t allowed to change much, and there isn’t much story. Our conversation mostly centered on the world building, which was cool, but not a very exciting book club session. However, everyone did enjoy the novel, and no one regretted reading it. I would give it a mild Not Recommended for book clubs, but still worth reading.