Completed 9/10/2019, Reviewed 9/10/2019
I enjoyed this book immensely. It takes place in Nigeria and deals with aliens and psychic abilities. The location is unusual for science fiction as most of the books I’ve read, and in general what we have here in the U.S., have American and Euro-centric locales. This provided a different point of view with different values and mores. It’s the first book in a trilogy. It has some loose ends but ends well enough that I didn’t feel like I was completely hanging. It’s well written and pretty fast paced. It was nominated for four awards, winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, considered Britain’s most prestigious SF award.
The plot revolves around Kaaro, a sensitive who can read people’s minds in some form. He begins life as a thief, stealing things that people value the most, figuring out where to find it and how to steal it by sensing it. Over time, he abandons his thieving ways, for the most part, and is recruited to work for a government agency, Section 45. His first mission is to try to find a dissident known as the Bicycle Girl. All his work is done in the backdrop of a city known as Rosewater which surrounds a biodome placed there by aliens. In the meantime, he meets a man who can fly and occasionally bursts into flames, alien floaters that want to devour him, and a woman posing as a butterfly who wants to have sex with him every time he enters the xenosphere. It may sound complicated, but it makes perfect sense in the course of the book.
Kaaro is an interesting character. He’s neither a hero nor an anti-hero. He primarily has an ambivalent attitude toward work and life that keeps him doing what he does. Towards the end however, he starts to stand up for himself, making decisions that may anger the S45, but finally coming to grips with his own wants and needs, and gaining a bigger perspective on the aliens.
The book is told in first person from Kaaro’s point of view. The narrative is told in two time lines, now, which is 2066, and then, which is his life as a youth up to 2055 when the alien biodome emerges, Rosewater develops as a city, and he is recruited by S45. I found this switching of timelines confusing at times, particularly near the end. Normally I can follow shifting timelines, but this time, I lost track a bit.
I really liked most of the secondary characters, most notably his boss at S45 and his love interest. His boss is one dimensional for most of the book, but becomes more multi-dimensional towards the end. She’s brassy and bossy, and Kaaro takes none of it, though he still does as she commands. His love interest is the sister of the young man who flies and burst into flames. I can’t go into too much detail on her, but suffice it to say, I thought she was very interesting.
I give this book four stars out of five. The prose is great, but does not overwhelm the dialogue or the action. The world building is also great, creating a near future Nigeria which suffers from superstitions, prejudice, and group hysteria. I don’t know when I’ll get around to them, but I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.