Tade Thompson’s The Rosewater Insurrection (Orbit, 2019) takes us deep into the heart of an alien invasion that divides humans among those who welcome the extra-terrestrials and those who want to stop them.
The book is the second in Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy. The first, Rosewater, earned the inaugural Nommo Award for Best Novel, Africa’s first-ever prize for speculative fiction.
In most tales of alien invasion, mankind and the invaders battle to the death. In Thompson’s tale, however, humans are more likely to fight with each other than with aliens, with the insurrection in the title referring to the city of Rosewater’s rebellion against greater Nigeria. Meanwhile, the invaders from outer space have their own internecine conflicts, as Wormwood—a powerful consciousness that reads minds and invades human bodies—battles for its survival against a fast-growing plant from its home planet.
The book reflects a subtle grasp of war and politics with characters capable of eliciting a reader’s empathy even as they sometimes behave in less than admirable ways.
“What someone told me this week about The Rosewater Insurrection was that they don’t know who to root for. To me that just means that I’ve been successful in showing the different points of view and the reasons for them doing what they’re doing without bias,” Thompson says.
There are hints of Thompson’s own life in the storytelling—as a working psychiatrist, as a Londoner of African heritage, as a student of history. The most powerful characters in The Rosewater Insurrection are women, reflecting his upbringing. “I had really strong sisters,” he says. “If you think about your average sub-Saharan African country now, you know there is lots of misogyny… However, the women actually hold the society up.”
For Thompson, human nature is largely to blame for the civil war at the heart of his story.
“They were dealing with something they don’t understand, and the human tendency when they don’t understand something is to lash out one way or the other. … Any time when you get prolonged uncertainty with human beings, conflict is usually the outcome.”